By Colin Walsh
In an earlier article we discussed the new SLLC that binds together the Student Farm, The Experimental Community Gardens, the Domes, Design Lab workspace, and Project Compost and the Tri Co-ops (Pierce, The Agrarian Effort, and Davis Student Co-op). What had been distinct learning communities with similar values and commitment to student agency, are now a unified grassroots educational initiative that explores a broad range of principles and practices related to agricultural, environmental, and social sustainability. Together, they aspire to promote 4 values, according to the SLLC website: experiential learning, sustainability, community, and place.
We also looked at the Green Fellowship program, a new effort to “fund projects exploring student-led advancement of social justice, sustainable technology, and environmental sustainability at UC Davis” according to the website.
On Saturday 5/11, as a very nice wine and cheese reception featuring food from the Student Farm and wine from the award winning Matthiasson and Farella wineries wound down (Steve Matthiasson and Tom Farella where in attendance), our tour guides gathered us together in the Eco Garden by the historic farm house at the student farm. We were welcomed warmly by our guides Carol Hillhouse and Nick Tamayo. Nick described his several years of experience with the student farm as he became ever more involved.
First, we walked through the Eco Garden, literally taking time to smell the flowers. Our guides took the time to point out plants and told us about the history and visions for the areas as we went.
Since 1977 students have tilled the earth in this on-campus organic farm. It was an early adopter of organic farming practices and has been a leader in related research. Today the farm includes Market Garden, Ecological Garden, Flower Project, as well as faculty-mentored field research opportunities. There are many learning opportunities to engage here, as interns or volunteers, or through workshops, farm tours, and several UC classes. The farm also sells food to the ASUCD Coffee House and through a CSA program. The farm is one of the most beautiful places on the UCD campus.
According to the website, the farm focuses on “sustainable agriculture and food systems,” emphasizes “in-field experiential learning,” and supports “student exploration, creativity, initiative, and leadership”
Together we walked down the dirt paths past the towering thistles and aromatic native plants. We stopped in front of a small vineyard and one of the tour participants,
Tom Farella, stepped forward. Farella graduated from UCD in 1983 in Viticulture and Enology and has gone on to run the critically acclaimed Farella winery with his father, Frank.
Tom shared with us how as a student he invested hours of sweat and effort to restore the vineyard and to right the trellises. He shared how difficult it was to disc the hard clay soil between the vines, and how differently he would have approached it today. But most interestingly, he went on to tell us how since then he had shared that story with several people who worked on the Student Farm after him. To his surprise, they made the same claim to restoring the vineyard. That caused him to realize that “restoring the vineyard” had been an important part of the learning process for many students over many years.
I can relate to that. As a student I lived in the Agrarian Effort Cooperative long before it was part of the SLLC. My first year there, my house mates and I dripped with sweat as we reclaimed the gardens from tangled matts of Bermuda and Johnson grasses. I have since heard the same story from other students who have lived there. Apparently, many generations of students have reclaimed the gardens and learned valuable lessons as we planted new vegetables.
That opportunity to take ownership and invest oneself in an endeavor like reclaiming a vineyard is an unparalleled experience for students. Being able to take ownership in such a hands-on way greatly enhances the educational opportunity.
Another tour participant, Poppy Davis, spoke of the goal of building a new packing house that could be used to model best practices in design and efficiency to small farms. A farm packing house is where produce is prepared and packaged for market. Poppy, who is an agricultural and food business and policy advisor, spoke about how central a packing house is to the success of small organic farms. The ability to quickly and efficiently package produce in sanitary conditions for delivery to customers can make or break small farms. A relatively modest investment would have many-fold benefits since it would teach students best practices and simultaneously serve as a best practices research station.
From there we walked through the last line of olive trees from the orchard that once covered much of the farm. The sun flitted in between the leaves as we strode across the ground made uneven by ground squirrels. These trees represent the last survivors of a different part of UCD’s history that lent its name to the now demolished Orchard Park student housing.
At the end of the line of olives we were shown where an observation tower might be built to get a better sense of the overall farm. Another tour participant shared a story of kissing her girlfriend on the farm as they watched the sun set over Highway 113 some 30 years ago. I could see nods around the group as I am sure we all reflected on the good memories we had here.
As we came to a wilder hedgerow, the tour was passed to Helen Vanbeck, Experimental Communities Garden Director, and Aina Smart Truco, two very impressive students.
For many decades the EC Gardens have provided students and community members the opportunity to lease garden plots. What has grown there is not just a beautiful oasis but a collaborative community. A central tool shed provides all of the equipment the gardeners need to grow food and flowers. Quality compost is available to enrich the soil. The EC Gardens are a unit of ASUCD.
As we walked between the garden plots bursting with the spring promises of a summer bounty I could not help but remember the times spent there with so many friends almost 30 years ago. We came to the Domes community through the back gate by the community Yurt. We stepped from the more tangled and wild gardens to the central green of the Domes.
These egg-shaped structures were originally built in 1972 by students as part of a low-cost and environmentally sustainable housing experiment. They have provided housing for students ever since, and the community that has developed there is remarkable. In the 90’s a central Yurt was added. The SLLC website states, “The residents of the Domes enact these values through unlearning oppressive behaviors, providing affordable, low-income housing, and taking personal responsibility for self-education and introspection.”
When I think of the domes, I think of community meals, sitting in the gardens, and dancing on the central green. Today the Domes are managed by the Solar Community Housing Association and provide unique affordable housing for students who want to live in the community
The tour ended at the Domes Community Yurt and we were treated with a prerelease screening of a film created by this year’s Green Fellows about generations of student activists at UCD who have made a difference. I would highly recommend watching for the release of this amazing Green Fellows Project.
To learn more about the SLLC please visit their website at https://sllc.sf.ucdavis.edu/
SLLC is actively seeking supporters’ funders and friends at https://sllc.sf.ucdavis.edu/friends-sllc