A Visit to SOGA: the Student Organic Gardening Association
The Student Organic Garden, if you have not yet had the pleasure of visiting, is a small plot of land on the corner of Walnut and Virginia St. Inside, every inch of soil has been utilized. Herbs, a greenhouse, patches of corn, flowers, cabbage and much, much more line pathways, peek out of corners, and stand in straight, carefully maintained rows. The crowd that visits each Sunday is just as diverse as the vegetation. Berkeley students check on the plants they have started to grow for their Intro to Organic Gardening and Food Justice DeCal, members of the community pop in to pick ripe vegetables for their lunch, and families and friends come together to learn another lesson in gardening.
The diversity of the garden makes it the perfect place for both the experienced growers and other, less experienced gardeners (those like me, who can count the number of vegetables they know on one hand, for example) to enjoy the outdoors, share a meal with the community, and learn how to grow their own food.
Every Sunday, SOGA has open hours from 10 am to 2 pm, and each visitor can participate as much or as little as they like. For those who would like to learn more about gardening, student leaders are present every Sunday to teach visitors about the layout of the garden, what is currently growing, and how to complete gardening tasks like weeding, composting, watering, seasonal planning, garden design, and more. Each week is a new opportunity to learn how to grow your own food, pick something to enjoy later, or to simply spend a lazy couple of hours on a Sunday morning out in the sun.
However, SOGA is not just about gardening. The organization also pursues the goal of encouraging conversations about food justice. That is why SOGA frequently hosts discussions about the disparities between which groups of people have access to healthy foods and who does not. It is a chance to discuss what we, as a community, can do to address these disparities.
Recently, there has been a shift in conversation regarding the food system, and food justice is just one aspect of that conversation. Today, more and more people are interested in knowing where their food is coming from, who produced it, what processes it underwent before it reached their plates, and how much the environment was affected by this production. A professor at Bard University, Professor Gidon Eshel stated in an article concerning the meat industry (“Rethinking the Meat Guzzler”, New York Times) that “the good of people’s bodies and the good of the planet are more or less perfectly aligned”. A conversation about our food system connects the health of our bodies to the health of other people, communities, and environments which have undergone so much harm at the hands of the food industry. Fortunately, consumers are beginning to realize this.
As a result, community gardens are becoming more popular, and for good reason. The ability to produce our own food has seemingly endless benefits. We are able to see our food from the moment it is planted to the moment it is picked. We can be sure that no harmful chemicals have touched it, that it is local, and that sustainable practices, such as composting, went into creating a perfect piece of produce. Not only that, but members of a community can benefit from a garden when each person has access to fresh fruit and vegetables and volunteer gardeners are able to take part in a peaceful, healing activity.
The reality is that, even though SOGA is a relatively small project, it is an important one with large impacts. Access to fresh produce is a rare privilege for many people. And once you taste something that has been grown in your own backyard, you have to consider…is the food you are getting from superstores really so fresh? Really worth gallons upon gallons of fossil fuels to transport? Really a result of sustainable practices? Or is it time to rethink our food system? Local food systems like these small gardens place the responsibility of food growth in the hands of the community, and allow them to have more control over their food choices. Once the consumer has actual control over their food choice, instead of simply consuming whatever is cheap and available at a supermarket, then they can start making real change in the global food system.
If you are at all interested in learning to garden, spending some time outdoors, or joining into a discussion about food justice, stop by SOGA any Sunday during open hours from 10-2!
Also, feel free to check out this video released by The Green Initiative Fund (TGIF), the organization that has financially supported SOGA to maintain their garden!