I visited Whittier College in honor of Food Day, an annual nationwide celebration of healthy, affordable, and sustainable food. My visit kicked off with a luncheon with landscape architect Glen Dake. Glen gave a presentation on how to build landscapes that volunteers both love and are capable of managing. The room was full of students from Whittier’s Urban Agriculture Club who were interested in learning techniques to get volunteers engaged with gardening. The presentation covered everything from how to make weeding assignments glamorous, to what plants can survive without much effort. My favorite piece of advice from Glen was to let volunteers draw their own garden designs using crayons, cotton balls, pieces of felt, and whatever other materials to bring their ideas to life. When this happens, volunteers become invested and passionate about the project. The discussion was a great primer for our Food Day Garden Gathering event the next day.
General Manager Terri Buzzard asked me to visit Whittier College because there is a piece of land across from the Campus Inn that is owned by the school and will be paved over if no one does anything with it. Bon Appétit had already tried to grow a salsa garden last year and it did not survive. The salsa garden was entirely created and managed by Bon Appétit so there was very little student involvement, and it got to be expensive because they had hired a local farmer to manage it all. Terri enlisted my help to facilitate a garden gathering that would bring together the college community in a discussion about growing food on campus. Our hope was that the gathering would spark interest in using that empty lot to grow food that could eventually feed students in the dining hall.
The garden gathering was held on Wednesday in honor of Food Day. Executive Chef Miguel Cuenca and Executive Sous Chef Frank Gurrola prepared an incredible spread of seasonal appetizers using local farmer Nic Romano’s produce. My favorite dish was a flatbread with roasted apples, goat cheese, and dill, but all the food was top notch and the students were so impressed with the quality! Operations Director Lucy Alcaraz put together some great table displays and helped schlep our entire set up (tables, posters, linens, food) to the site.
Office Manager and gardening extraordinaire Channy Gil hung photographs of the site when it was being developed last year, and during the gathering she gave everyone some background on the previous attempts to utilize the land. We had professors Sal Johnston and Cinzia Fissore participate in the gathering as well, which was great because there is already a small learning garden on campus that we wanted to incorporate into this larger discussion about growing food on campus. Sal encouraged the group to find a joint system of how these two gardens could operate, be utilized, and be managed. Cinzia must have been taking notes during Glen Dake’s presentation because she offered to have her class come up with garden designs for the lot as a part of their environmental studies class. We are hoping to put together a garden committee that can then select which design would actually be used for the space.
It was a great event but now we have the more difficult task of organizing and following up on the ideas and commitments made at the garden gathering. The Urban Agriculture Club plans to convene a meeting at the Earlham Garden site to discuss next steps, Freshman student senator Kellen Aguilar has offered to get student government involved, and farmer Nic Romano has donated some starter plants to get the garden growing! Through a collaborative effort, there is so much potential for this gardening project to thrive!