Celebrating an Entire Year of Harvest

The Arroyo Vista Amphitheater was filled  with eager students and potential green thumbs on Saturday, Feb. 25 for the first annual anniversary celebration of the Arroyo Vista “Ants in Your Plants” Garden.


Students, garden volunteers, friends and family members met to enjoy an afternoon of harvesting, gardening workshops, cooking demos, games and lunch accompanied by live music. The garden’s founding members, including Alexandra Nagy and David Lee, hosted the event and opened with a few words about the garden’s founding and its mission as an aspect of UC Irvine community life.


Motivated by the inherent issues in our current food system and an aversion to today’s fast-food culture, Nagy was inspired to start up a garden.  One year ago this month, “Ants in Your Plants” officially opened.  The garden is community-based, student-run and student-funded, meaning that volunteers decide what to plant, when to plant and what to do with it.


The purpose of growing the food is to educate, from the very first step of planting the seeds to the reaping of what has been grown.  On that note, Nagy and Lee set their guests loose to complete the first task on the day’s agenda: collect the winter harvest.  As promised, the garden brimmed with an undeniable sense of community and discovery. Two volunteers high-fived as they successfully uprooted a particularly monstrous rhubarb to make room for next season’s vegetables. Students and adults marveled over the exotic-looking vegetables, such as white satin carrots, purple-skinned dragon carrots, golden beets and kohlrabi. Another volunteer admired a dill plant that had grown to nearly the size of a rosebush. Others played veggie hangman, constructed newspaper growing pots, and painted and decorated flowerpots.


The harvest was followed by a gardening workshop with OC Master Gardeners’ expert Steve Williams, who gave a brief lecture on basic gardening tips. Students learned how to plant the best harvest by improving the soil in their gardens, grouping plants according to growth needs, watering efficiently yet conservatively, and controlling and managing garden pests and critters, among much else.


A series of cooking demos led by David Lee wrapped up the event.  To start, Lee passed around a cutting board loaded with slices of garden vegetables for the volunteers to taste.  The samples included sweet, crisp golden beets,  slightly starchy, broccoli-like kohlrabi, and dragon carrots. Lee then used some of the remaining produce to demonstrate a few simple recipes, such as carrot purée with dill, sautéed spinach and green onion, and kohlrabi and radish salad with cilantro, sour cream and lemon.  The samples of each dish were quickly gobbled up, and the vegetables that were not consumed will be donated to local food banks. Although the Ants in Your Plants Garden now seems to be an ever-growing success, starting up the garden was met with some challenges.


“The most difficult thing by far was getting the land,” Nagy said.


After months of negotiations, school administration offered the Arroyo Vista volleyball court to the Anteater Garden Initiative as their only option, despite the Arroyo Vista Student Council vote to allot the south end of the Arroyo Vista field for construction of the garden. Despite the initial set backs, the garden was officially opened on Feb. 5, 2011 and now boasts well over two dozen raised beds housing a variety of vegetables, herbs and leafy greens.


What worries Nagy now is that no one will take the garden on after she and its other founding members graduate.  The garden needs a community behind it in order to survive, and being entirely student-maintained means that it is dependent on student involvement.


“The fact that UCI is letting us use this land in the first place is a big deal,” she said. “We don’t want to lose it.”


The garden is unique in that it presents an opportunity to educate and inform students in an area that is vital, yet largely unrecognized.  Many students don’t know where their food comes from and what it looks like outside of the aisles of the grocery store.


“It’s about one person at a time becoming more aware and changing their habits,” one volunteer adds, “and then what that might mean globally.”


In addition, the gardeners want to prove that sustainable movements can be a success and should be encouraged, especially at a place like UCI.


Students interested in volunteering can sign up via email at http://www.asuci.uci.edu/garden or send questions and suggestions to garden@asuci.uci.edu.