Garden Initiative Bears Fruit

Nicole Del Castillo/New University

Arroyo Vista residents, UC Irvine students and members from the surrounding community came together at the Ants In Your Plants Garden on Saturday, May 12 to listen to live music and take part in sustainability workshops hosted by UCI’s Real Food Challenge Organization.


The Real Food Challenge Organization at UCI is a new club on campus that is looking to motivate other students to live a more sustainable and environmentally conscious life. The  UC system adopted the Real Food Challenge goal of serving 20 percent “real” food by 2020. This became one of the sustainability campaigns that led to the organization of other “green” organizations on campus in recent years. According to Real Food Challenge, real food is food that is free of chemicals, organic and environmentally sustainable. The foodstuff also must conform to ethical workplace standards in treating workers fairly, treating livestock humanely without cruelty and engaging in fair trade with farmers.


Jam ’n Jam was created as a “communal, educational and self-empowering” festival, motivating students to make a more significant effort to support environmental sustainability. The group is made of ten core members and twenty other student members. In Spring 2011, Haruna Asakana, Real Food Challenge Secretary, thought of the environmentally conscious value in making homemade jam as a main sustainability workshop.


The UCI Real Food Challenge branch was established in 2008. When the Ants in Your Plants Garden was planted in Spring 2011, Real Food Challenge hosted its first Jam ’n Jam to celebrate.


“Last year was a test drive,” Asakawa said,, “very laid back.”


This year, with one month of planning and advertising, Alexandra Nagy, Haruna Asakawa, Sheila Mann, Archana Venugopal, Rosie Said and Cassie Stiftl hosted the “green” festival. According to Asakawa, the Real Food Challenge organization’s purpose for hosting the event was to raise awareness about a “do-it-yourself” attitude to “teach students how to be producers, not consumers.”


Alexandra Nagy, who was co-president in 2010-2011, is now the Garden Commissioner of the club and Sustainability Intern for UCI Hospitality and Dining.


One of the accomplishments Nagy led was the implementation of trayless dining in resident halls, to reduce food waste and the massive amount of water it takes to clean the many trays. The Real Food Challenge also hosts the Weigh the Waste program at the dining hall, which helps students waste less food.


At her own booth, Nagy showed student musician, Pawl Espinoza, how to make homemade deodorant. Nagy found motivation to make a healthier alternative to the chemical-laden deodorants that we use for a strong anti-perspirant.


Nagy said that although the program is a challenge, “the whole UC system is committed to the program, and its sustainability policy was adopted from a Real Food Challenge policy.”


With sponsorship from UCI Green Campus Association, ASUCI Garden Initiative, UCI Real Food Challenge, Aramark, UCI Hospitality and Dining and other “green” organizations affiliated with the workshops, the club was able to make the festival entirely free.


Rosi Said’s personal connections with Green Campus Association and other sustainability clubs on campus gave the Real Food Challenge more publicity. Said is passionate about finding everyday items and using them in creative ways.


“I love swap meets and I was dying to buy a ton of succulents,” Said said,  who used old teapots to plant her succulents around her house.


Said and Nic La, an Administrator of DAT Space, shared with students the value of growing succulents in the harsh California desert environment.


Kevin Schluneggar, TGIF accountant, explained the value conservation biologists place on native succulents, the species that conservationists are pushing for Southern California residents to plant. According to its website, “the Design, Art and Technology Makerspace aims to lower the barrier for students to advance in their creative projects and to drive them to innovate.”


Archana Venugopal was one of the Real Food Challenge members who had her own booth for the festival. Just in time for mother’s day, students could use coffee filters to create beautiful carnation flowers.


“You can easily make something beautiful like this with materials found in their own homes, it looks just as good,” Venugopal said.


This year, Real Food Challenge members raised more awareness about the event by boosting advertisement. Broad marketing and promotion gave the organization more than ten bands to choose from for their eight musical acts during the six-hour festival.


Ted Huntington, a UCI Library employee, opened up the festival at 11:00 a.m. with his uniquely psychedelic environmental songs to create the “jam” atmosphere.


“I personally love to jam with music and I love to make jam,” Huntington said.


Erin Riegelsberger, a singer-songwriter whom many students know as a Soulstice performer, followed with her own original environmental songs.


“When we came, the music was softer and now there’s rock,” Maria Romera said, who was in attendance at the event. “It’s very diverse.”


Rebecca Chadwick, a University of California Cooperative Extension Master Gardener, gave students a lesson in composting. David Lee, Real Food Challenge Garden Commissioner, showed students the successful example of the UCI Ants in Your Pants Garden compost.


The homemade jam workshop, hosted by the Sustainability House in Arroyo Vista, provided much information for attendants. Instructors taught everything from necessary jam preservatives to the ingredients to sterilize the jars in a way that is sustainably improved.


Other workshops promoting sustainability included DIY Decorate Your Shirt, Fabric Softener Pouch-Making, Knit Wit – Finger Knitting and even pickling. Students also enjoyed the wide range of workshops the organization offered.


“If I have kids,” said Luis Carrera, a third-year mathematics major, “this is something that I could have them do.”


While attendance seemed scarce, the club, however, did not seem at all discouraged in carrying out their initiative.


“Next year, we hope to have more people,” said Kristine Hoffman, a third-year business administration major, who worked at the Finger Knitting workshop.


“We will work with administrators and all we need now is for more students to join. We are a small group but we are powerful,” Asakawa said.