Planting Seeds

With the goal of fostering awareness about where food comes from and how it was produced, the Anteater Garden Initiative (AGI) established a 1/4 acre on-campus garden plot this summer, with planting to ensue later this fall.

The AGI campaign was born from the Real Food Challenge, a food sustainability campaign in the fall of 2009. The goal of AGI is to create community through the education of sustainable food practices. Alexandra Nagy, one of the co-founders of AGI and Garden Commissioner at ASUCI, commented on the difficulty of the project,

“Originally we really wanted the garden to be on campus, because if it’s directly on main campus, that is where the action happens. It has the highest visibility factor,” Nagy said. “Students walk by it every day … and then seeing it, they have that direct relationship to the garden, so even if they don’t use it, they have that in the back of their minds.”

But despite their good intentions, AGI found themselves stonewalled on location. From areas like the orchard hidden behind the Science Library to plots of grass around Langston, space that looked unused still garnered the same response.

“All of it was no, no, no, and we were beating our heads against the table trying to get those spots,” Nagy said.

The student-led initiative found itself increasingly frustrated with what seemed like pure uncooperation from the various committees involved with land development on campus.

“They really didn’t take us seriously until we said, ‘where do you see us doing this?’ and that’s where things like East Campus got thrown around,” Nagy said.

For Richard Demerjian, director of the Office of Campus and Environmental Planning, the issues that AGI faced in finding land were not caused by an administrative attitude of non-cooperation, but were more focused on finding land that would best fit the needs of a garden.

“What happened is as we looked at sites, East Campus made more sense, because they were near a student housing area where they had kitchens where the food could be used, versus an area that would be remote out in central campus,” Demerjian said.

The decision was also made on a basis of ease and cost of development.

“The topography is a lot better out there as well,” Demerjian said. “It’s our fourth community garden on campus. As you look at them they are all on fairly flat land. Once you get into areas where you have a lot of slope, it becomes very difficult to develop. The site they have is ideal. It’s flat, and it has a perimeter around it to help keep the bunnies out — from a cost standpoint it’s the most cost-effective for them.”

As far as difficulties that AGI encountered, Director Dimerjian was positive about the future.

“I didn’t have the feeling [that] anyone wasn’t taken seriously,” Demerjian said. “With any idea, it takes some time for details to evolve. The best thing to do for a student initiative is to work through the office of student affairs who work with the administration to move the proposal forward.”

As AGI did move forward, the group managed to get approval to build the garden in the old volleyball courts in Arroyo Vista, currently defunct. Thanks to the new Sustainability and Culinary Houses, the spot seemed to be perfect. In addition, the size was exactly what AGI had been looking for.

Nagy commented that they had already received a positive response from teachers who also saw potential in a dedicated environment to teach sustainability.

AGI hopes to bolster sustainability ratings on campus. The Real Food Challenge campaign had set a goal of having 20 percent of the food at UCI being from sustainable sources, like local farms or organic produce. Recent changes to the UC Sustainability Policy have pushed to surge the current nine percent sustainability rating up to 20 percent by 2015.

AGI now stands poised to be among the first of many new sustainable projects at UCI. It receives administrative and financial support from the Green Initiative Fund, a group dedicated to funding student-backed green projects on campus.

The group hopes to hold a volunteer led groundbreaking event sometime this November, and looks forward to strong support from the student body as the garden begins to grow.