Growing into a Farmer in the Student Organic Garden

Annual crops in the Student Organic Garden
The south side of the Student Organic Garden, facing the annual crop beds, some of which are used by classes like ESPM117: Urban Garden Ecosystems.

When I think of my summer, I think of the Student Organic Garden Association, or SOGA, the garden where I spent long afternoons in between work and classes, getting leaves, sticks, and even caterpillars in my hair, scratches from blackberry bush thorns and purple stains from its fruit on my hands, and endless gratitude to be in this place, at this time.

Only a block from campus on the northwest side, any student of any major can stick their hands in some soil in the garden, pull the always plentiful weeds, make art, harvest and eat food, or just simply relax on the porch swing. Through the chain link fence you can see the ground in the Student Organic Garden is over a foot higher than the sidewalk outside, the soil built up by years of students and community members loving the land, using the space to gather and to grow not only food, but themselves as well.

There is a lot to learn in the garden- whether it be physical or not. I’ve gotten sunburns that have turned into the best tan of my life and the reason I am much better at being sure to wear sunscreen and hats, gone from someone who would dodge insects to one who can farm alongside spiders, wasps, ladybugs, moths, and worms all the same with a smile, and have even learned how to test whether the clay, sand, or silt content of my soil by wetting it, rolling it in my hands, and shaping it into a donut!

Most importantly, however, the garden has taught me how to appreciate every moment. I have always seen the beauty in the world around me, but the garden has heightened my senses- everywhere I go I try to think of things as I experience them in the garden. Sure, it was hot during the heat wave and most people wanted to hide inside with air conditioning, but I was outside, getting to eat mulberries warmed by the sun and laugh at myself as I ended up soaked trying to water the plants. I think of this as I walk off to my 8 am class in Wheeler Hall- sure, it is 8 am, but I am off to a class I love, in a beautiful building on a beautiful campus, intimately aware of how my feet fall into the grooves of the building’s stone steps, warn down by 100 years of students walking the same path, my fingers soaking up the feeling of the handrail’s wood beneath my fingers as I rush to class.

The garden brought my senses to life and made me realize when I can appreciate the clouds, flowers, or people passing by, hear laughter, music, or the wind in the trees, eat good food, or feel the sun on my body and my feet on the ground, I am alive, and living in a beautiful world. The garden currently needs a lot of love, like the world outside it, but I and my fellow managers at the Student Organic Garden Association see the beauty that is there and are ready to give it the hard work it deserves, and so we will continue to pull up weeds and spend days in the sun, growing together.

Sunflowers outside the greenhouse in the Student Organic Garden
The greenhouse in the garden, built by members of the Student Organic Garden Association in 2013, with the garden’s iconic native sunflowers in the foreground.

Author: Allison Weber

Conservation and Resource Studies Major with a specialization in Agro-ecology and Sustainable Development Policy (2020). Cannoneer for the UC Rally Committee and Farm Manager for the Student Organic Garden Association. From Mammoth Lakes, CA