By Mandy Ferreira
The hot sun beat down on the three volunteers as they struggled to pull the dry, dead plants from the soil in order to plant for the next season. The garden was empty, except for the three volunteers and the plants swaying in the wind.
At the start of its third year, the Santa Clara Forge Community Garden, located on the corner of Benton and Sherman streets, is in a time of transition. The garden’s previous director, Patrick Archie, left over the summer and a new team has taken his place. New Director Joanna Johnson, Program Coordinator Natalie Yoder and Education and Outreach Coordinator — and Santa Clara alumna — Cara Uy (’11) have been doing their best to make the transition as smooth as possible, especially finding ways to attract more student volunteers.
“(The transition) has been really rough, but we’re getting a lot of support, and nobody’s really pressuring us one way or another,” said Uy. “We get to kind of make the Forge our own.”
One of the biggest challenges for the team is the lack of student volunteers. Volunteer workdays have been moved to Mondays and Thursdays from 2-5 p.m. to make the times as convenient for students as possible.
However, many students have no idea that the university has a community garden, let alone where it is located or when they can help.
“We have this feeling that campus doesn’t really quite know about the Forge,” said Leslie Gray, executive director of the Environmental Studies Institute.
What started out as an idea from Joe Sugg, assistant vice president of University Operations, to save an empty plot of land from becoming a parking lot has transformed into the educational community garden at the university today.
Sugg offered the space to the Environmental Studies Institute to create a community garden where students, staff and faculty members could have their own plots turned into the educational and community garden we have today. ESI has transformed the Forge into one of four gardens in the Bronco Urban Gardens program, which aims to promote environmental education and healthy eating habits for at-risk families in San Jose.
“The Forge is our campus and community education garden that focuses on sustainable agriculture, food justice and community connections around local food,” said Gray.
Getting consistent groups of volunteers has been historically difficult for the Forge, but Uy and the rest of the team are planning events to attract student attention. The Forge, in conjunction with Bon Appétit, also hosted a Food Day event on Oct. 24 in an attempt to increase student awareness of the garden and its mission. The event drew 40 people to the garden to enjoy some of the harvest and plant for the next season.
The team plans to host events similar to the Food Day, including a plant sale and a possible Healthy Living Series that would take place one weekend a month.
“I think (the team is) going to inspire students and really get them out into the space and help them see the Forge,” said Gray. “I think they are really going to see the Forge’s potential.”
The Forge not only offers students a way to get involved in the campus community and meet new people, but it is also a way to find a piece of nature in our urban environment.
“You don’t really get any of it as a college kid — we’re so busy you can’t really go camp or anything on a regular basis, so this is the closest I can get to nature on my schedule,” said freshman Ian McCluskey.
“It’s nice to take a break in the day and come get your hands dirty,” said junior Tyler Knapp. “You get to meet a lot of different people that you wouldn’t have stumbled upon otherwise.”
Although one of the main goals is to get students involved in the garden through volunteering and course work, a large part of the program is bringing the greater Santa Clara community into the garden and providing food education to the surrounding community’s members.
“(The Forge) belongs to the campus and the community,” said Gray. “It does not belong to (the ESI); it belongs to everyone.”
In the future Gray would like the Forge to host more Experiential Learning for Social Justice opportunities where students could meet their University Core requirements by working with the communities surrounding campus.
“I just think figuring out how to ignite the campus passion around the Forge is going to be what’s going to make it,” said Gray. “There are two things that seem to really excite Santa Clara students: one is food, and the other is social justice. And the Forge really does both of those.”
Contact Mandy Ferreira at email@example.com or call (408) 554-4852.