When volunteering as a student leader at Santa Monica College, an urban community college located in California, I had my first qualitative experience in building community and advocating for a different kind of campus-- one where folks could slow down, build connections to the origins of their food, their ancestors, gain skills in reducing their environmental footprint, and engage in self-sufficient acts of resilient beauty. From the quality education that I received from numerous professors and mentors at the college, and through inspiring conversations about the potential of small pockets of determined, thoughtful people, the project developed into a philosophical proposal with dreams of tangible expression. A proposal articulating both the philosophy and logistics for this project were co-written by then student Natasha Vokhshoori, Marine Biogeochemical Scientist, and myself. This document was shared with Students, Professors, Groundskeepers, Administrators, the Environmental Action Committee, and the Board of Trustees, and expressed, “We, the students of Santa Monica College, want to learn to grow our own food so that we can make our communities self-sustaining, have access to fresh and healthy food, reconnect to the earth, our food, our traditions, and experience the happiness that comes from being connected to the beauty and wholeness of nature and each other as we work together in our gardens.” This project has evolved through the long-sustained passion of student volunteers invested in seeing the transformation of the campus to include an educational garden space.
Santa Monica College is a school with an enrollment of over 30,000 students, with educational offerings in over 90 subjects. The garden, located in front of the Art Department, is a rich resource and diverse space where folks from all walks of life engage in numerous interdisciplinary experiences. The garden plots have been a space for hands-on learning for clubs. In addition, various courses have all broadened their curriculum to include the garden as a learning space. Students from the Center for Urban and Environmental Studies and the Sustainable Works program are involved in sustaining and shaping this program. This project continues to evolve through the contributions of numerous Santa Monica College Students, as well as the knowledgable oversight of a volunteer Master Gardener of California.
This is a project that I am grateful to have the opportunity to contribute to, as it is both meaningful and empowering to witness the way a garden changes how a place feels, educates many, builds community, and broadens and deepens ecological consciousness through hands-on, collective work. This, for me, is the culmination of my early work as a an Artist. As articulated and carried forth from generations of Santa Monica College students, "The Organic Learning Garden provides an opportunity for the entire Santa Monica College community to participate in practical learning, to grow our own food, to exercise sustainability, and to better understand food systems and the impact they have on our planet, bodies, and culture."
To learn more, visit the Santa Monica College Learning Garden.