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SJSU Campus Community Garden: A Hidden, Local Gem for Both Residents and Students

In mid-May, a little over a dozen of children from Olinder Elementary School’s CORAL after school program took a trip to an urban farm. The destination? Our very own San Jose State Campus Community Garden.

The SJSU Campus Community Garden is located on San Salvador St. across the street from the Campus Village housing, and is managed by the Cesar Chavez Community Action Center (CCCAC) under Associated Students. The garden is a shared garden between the university and the local community, meaning that it is open to the public.

Like CommUniverCity, the CCCAC provides windows of opportunity for students to dive into civic engagement.

Matt Spadoni, a familiar name to us CommUniverCitans, is the current garden coordinator who assisted SJSU-student engaged learners during this urban garden field trip. Spadoni served as CommUniverCity’s Growing Sustainably Program Manager for about a year and half before venturing into his current position with the CCCAC.

The Urban Farm Field Trip is a part of the Growing Sustainably: Garden Education program where children spend weeks learning about harvesting and, you guessed it, gardening. Garden Education ends with a field trip to a local urban farm.

Growing Sustainably Intern, Reyna Yep, helps student fill out her scavenger hunt worksheet.

To first start off, the young students were instructed to fill out a scavenger hunt sheet where they were to find something that started with a different letter from the alphabet. Spadoni then lead them to large bins full of compost. The Olinder community participants  learned that most of the compost in the bins are biodegradable waste that came from students and the local community who all collectively would put their banana peels, apple cores, and other used produce in a smaller compost bin posted just outside the campus garden.

So here we were, on a warm and sunny May afternoon within the SJSU’s Community Garden. One couldn’t imagine the endless possibilities within this small urban green space.

After learning about how the compost system works, the junior farmers were led to a hands-on activity which involved growing their own plants: a sunflower and pea plant. Growing Sustainably interns assisted the children in potting their plants while simultaneously being able to teach the basics of how to care for a plant.

“It was exciting to engage with the students from Olinder Elementary and see how excited they were to learn and participate in the activities at the garden,” said Reyna Yep, a Growing Sustainably Intern.

There was a lot to learn and a lot to do within such a short time frame.

Shortly after potting the mystery seed, the garden coordinator pulls out a bin in the middle of the group of children and asks, “So who wants to touch some worms?”

Hands waved in the air and a chorus of “me” suddenly erupted. 

It’s important to note here that while gardening may not be a popular past time in children, exposing them to the newness of this hobby can be a gateway into helping them discover activities within gardening and agriculture that may interest them, even if they have never experienced it before.

According to an article from the Royal College of Physicians, gardening can positively affect mental health in that the hobby itself is a form of therapy. Gardening connects humans to nature and helps decrease stress.

While touching worms may be gross to some, most of these children took a form of interest which leads us to believe that gardening as a pastime might be a future stress-relieving activity.

After that, children had the opportunity to harvest strawberries and taste the freshness of their own pick.

Student harvesting their own strawberries.

“Mine was sour!”

“My strawberry was small.”

“Mine was sweet. Can I get another one?”

Needless to say, strawberry picking was definitely a highlight of their day. Besides strawberries, a few of the physically stronger children volunteered to harvest garlic. The garlic they harvested would be sent off to the Spartan Food Pantry.

As the Urban Farm Field Trip came to a close, the Olinder students, or Owlinders as they are known to school staff,  couldn’t help but notice a familiar face on one of the murals of the garden.

Dolores Huerta, a civil rights activist, can be seen on a large mural towards the back of the garden. Many of the young students already knew who she was and what she stood for. Collectively, most of the students knew that she coined the slogan “Sí se puede.” One of the students even pointed out that their own teacher marched with Huerta alongside with Cesar Chavez.

The SJSU Campus Community Garden is a hidden gem. CommmUniverCity thanks CCCAC for representing SJSU in such a well-kept garden.

“I’m coming back here over the summer,” said an Olinder student.

Looks like the SJSU Community Garden has gotten an honorary Olinder Elementary Kid Seal of Approval!

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