It was Voltaire’s Candide who told us “we must cultivate our garden.”
Those who started the Kresge Garden Co-op listened.
Just outside the east fences of the garden, a brilliantly colored “Viva la Compost” sign can be read next to heaps of fresh soil and brown manure, reflecting the organic and self-sufficient manner in which the co-op manages its garden. A myriad of vegetables and fruits grow there, including cabbage, garlic, onions, carrots, plums, peaches and spinach.
Kresge College recently began offering a two-credit independent study course that focuses on expanding and improving the quality of the garden. Since the inception of the course, the garden has thrived, thanks to eager and involved students who enrolled in the spring session.
Ryan Abelson, a Kresge gardener and second-year environmental studies major, now serves as a TA for the class. Abelson has seen the garden grow tremendously in the last two years.
“In the beginning, there wasn’t that much formal structure. It used to just be Kresge students to themselves, self-maintained,” Abelson said. “The co-op has been a lab, where we can bring in new kids of all ages. We have staff, parents, little kids, [and] students from all colleges. We all make it happen.”
Abelson commented on the growth of the co-op since the beginning of the class last spring quarter.
“When I took the class there were around 10 to 15 people,” he said. “Now there are around 20 to 25 people. The class is really hands-on — you’re digging, planting, weeding.”
Abelson said that the class teaches important lessons to students.
“We want to teach people ways to be self-sufficient,” Abelson said. “We’re not focused on production, but rather education and awareness. It’s all about the community. We use the resources here to educate people — and feed people too.”
The Kresge Garden Co-op also prides itself on its organic production standards.
“We only support farmers who buy seeds,” Abelson said. “We don’t support genetic modification.”
Kresge gardening class instructor Dave Shaw first discovered the garden as a student in 2004.
After joining the UCSC faculty in 2008, he started teaching the class and has since seen what he considers to be “tremendous” growth.
“Since the beginning of the co-op, we have doubled the amount of beds and bed space, we have strengthened the relationship between the garden co-op and the food co-op at Kresge, and we are beginning to offer services to other groups that have invited us to collaborate,” Shaw said. “The garden co-op is now thriving. It’s like a garden renaissance out there.”
Shaw emphasized the importance of the students in enabling the garden to thrive.
“The students are running this co-op, and that’s super empowering,” Shaw said. “We’re building a really strong community, and it’s working. People are learning these skills and running with them.
Bodhi Crandall, a third-year environmental studies and economics major from Cowell, said he is grateful for Shaw and the garden.
“It’s been really great because Dave [Shaw] takes a lot of the time to build community and teach us everything,” he said. “[The garden] is a nice demonstration of organic procedure.”
Shanin Arianna, a second-year philosophy major at Kresge, is part of the two-credit independent study with the co-op. Though Arianna is new to gardening, he said that the experience has been very worthwhile.
“I have a lot of fun doing it,” Arianna said. “You don’t have to think about much while you [garden]. It’s really beautiful out here.”
Abelson said it is important to expand the skills learned in the garden to other places.
“We want people to come, cultivate plants, and outsource them,” Abelson said. “Only so much focus can go into this.”
Besides cultivating their own garden, students working in the Kresge garden have hopes for other colleges, like Oakes and Porter, to create co-ops of their own.
“We’re going to Oakes and to Porter and expanding,” Shaw said. “It just shows that what we’re doing is really working. We’re cultivating the good life.”