Credit: Arabel Meyer/EdSource
A student holds eggs from the Cal Poly SLO gardens.

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It’s universally acknowledged that today’s youth have been dealt a tough hand in terms of education during the pandemic. Being one of the unfortunate students who graduated from high school and entered college in 2020, I understand this struggle.

For my peers and me, under the cloud of Covid-19, it wasn’t only difficult to acclimate to the new educational environment of college, but the social one as well.

I moved to San Luis Obispo to attend Cal Poly in the winter of 2021. I had spent a quarter at home, since my classes were all on Zoom, but those months left me feeling lonely and disconnected.

As an incoming college student, moving to a new town can be nerve-racking in the best circumstances. Adding the implications and hysteria of a global pandemic on top of these pressures made it doubly difficult.

With our classes online and other social environments like student clubs suspending their in-person meetings, I was left with some of the same feelings of dissatisfaction I’d had when attending school remotely. As someone who enjoys time spent outside and with others, it was difficult to spend so much time indoors, staring at a computer screen.

But, sometimes solutions present themselves in unconventional ways. For me, the missing pieces of my college experience were a shovel and a hand in the earth.

In my sophomore year, I discovered the Cal Poly Student Experimental Farm, a student-run community garden on my campus. Along with its personal impact on me as a source of community during a disconnected time, this garden is representative of much more.

The first time I found my campus’s garden, I was in awe of the space. It sits on a hill beneath the greater Cal Poly campus, a vast carpet of green breaking up the landscape. Among swaths of grasses sit orderly beds of cultivated plants and fruit-bearing trees, with a path leading to a fenced-off coop and pond to house the resident chickens and ducks.

This space is tended by the Cal Poly Garden Club, a community of Earth-loving students that I felt immediately connected to. Attending the weekly meetings began to feel like a sort of healing. I would look forward to Sunday mornings when I could wake up early to traverse the gravel path to the garden and work in the sunshine for several hours.

“So many kids that come to garden club are people that live on campus, and they don’t have a backyard or a natural space that they can call their own,” said Emma Roberts, a fourth-year student and senior member of the club. “We have this small piece of nature that we tend to, and it also tends to us. It’s nice because everyone needs to have their own space outside.”

“College only provides your own space inside, but if a school has a garden, it provides a space outside for the students,” she added.

Research is beginning to be conducted on the impact of active green spaces on college campuses. A 2019 study by researchers at Furman and Yale universities indicated that “students who frequently engage with green spaces in active ways report higher quality of life, better overall mood, and lower perceived stress.”

My inclination to seek out the healing of the sun and soil is shared by many young people at universities. In the early 2000s, few gardens on college campuses existed. However, in the past decade, there has been an increase in the cultivation of these community spaces. Eighteen CSU campuses are listed as having student community gardens; all 10 University of California campuses have some sort of student garden.

In California, several other campuses have exceptional garden spaces. Among them are UC Berkeley’s Campus Gardens. The campus is home to more than 10 gardens that offer the community aspect, experimental research and a resource to fight student food insecurity. The Pomona College Organic Farm runs on over an acre of land and is actively used as an educational tool for small-scale farming and sustainability.

For me, my time working in my campus garden has been a source of much-needed connection and a way to practice a sustainable, mindful lifestyle.

Eva Moylan, a third-year student and long-time member of the club, summed it up. “I think we are really lucky to have this space,” she said. “Even if you aren’t involved, just to have a space for students to sit quietly and see nature — I think it would be a really valuable thing to have on any campus.”

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Arabel Meyer is a third-year journalism major at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo and a member of EdSource’s California Student Journalism Corps

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  1. Martin Blythe 1 week ago1 week ago

    Well said. All K-12 schools should be doing the same. It matters a lot and I’ve seen that it helps.