Community welcomes grand opening of R’Garden

Taken by Vincent Ta

An empty plot of land behind Lot 30 has blossomed into the beginning of a community garden known as R’Garden, thanks to the efforts made by the UCR student organizations Sustainable UCR and Cultivate R’Space. Located near the corner of Canyon Crest Drive and Martin Luther King Boulevard, the grand opening of the R’Garden ceremoniously opened on Dec.1.

Campus and community organizations will now be able to utilize the plots of land to grow fruits and vegetables, hold student fields trips and create an educational learning space.

Initiated by 2011 UCR alumnus and garden organizer Fortino Morales, the presentation consisted of contributing environmental groups, public officials and student organizers. The presentation signified the collaborative efforts between campus and local organizations to promote outreach efforts through the community garden.

“I just want to begin by recognizing the incredible effort, the commitment, the tirelessness that has been shown by a group of young students that we are standing here today that we are celebrating,” stated UCR Political Science professor Farah Godrej, during opening remarks of the presentation. “This is a result of months if not years of work by these young people.”

Previous attempts at developing campus community gardens around Pentland Hills and Watkins Drive, located near the residence halls, lacked popularity and were effectively shut down over the last few years.

In 2008, Sustainable UCR and the Salvation Army sought to fund a separate garden, but due to the economic crisis, the latter program was forced to withdraw support. In the same year, UCR Chancellor Timothy White made a one-year funding agreement of $145,723, which was used to offset start-up costs, hire student interns and support development plans.

“The power of our students is…really the organic piece of our university, along with the power of our faculty,” stated White as he punctured the earth with an honorary metal shovel during the ceremonial speeches. In congratulatory support, White extended his funding commitment to three years “to make sure we keep this thing going and that with the success from fundraising…foundations and the community, this thing will eventually be self-sufficient…”

Another speaker was Pavan Rami, a team member of Cultivate R’Space, which is a UCR research organization that holds a student-led seminar titled “Urban Garden.” The seminar is a two-unit UCR course that is taught in the spring quarter, and will soon be expanded into the winter quarter of next year. Rami anticipates the development of a regenerative community seminar as a future course, which aims to bring urban renewal projects into local communities.

During the grand opening, visitors were greeted with locally-grown tangerines and informative workshops by various environmental organizations such as the Riverside County Master Gardener, Gates Cactus & Succulent Society and Riverside-Corona Resource Conservation District.

“I’m really excited about…letting people know that [the garden] is here and starting to get people involved. We just got three GCAP grants. One to build the outdoor classroom. One to build the compost toilet and [one] to purchase the compost project and so we’re starting to build the infrastructure slowly and get students involved.”

From 1991 to 1996, an older community garden existed on the other side of Chicago Avenue, but was eventually closed down and used as storage by the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans).

“There’s a lot more interest in it. You know there’s about four community gardens springing up in Riverside. There’s a really nice one at Emerson School,” stated Tony Inaba when asked about the distinction between this garden and its predecessors. Inaba is a teacher of Emerson Elementary, which is less than a mile from the R’garden. A portion of the land will be used as a youth garden for student field trips and there is also a nearby citrus grove.

The students from the Bourns College of Engineering (BCOE) displayed their 18-foot mobile trailer that stores energy through rechargeable DC batteries and is collected by large solar panels. Funded by the Green Campus Action Plan (GCAP), ASUCR senators dedicated $34,000 to the development of the solar panel system. The portable trailer was also used to power the microphone system and the speakers during the ceremony, but will be purposed with pumping water into the garden.

The Child Leader Project (CLP), the Botany and Entomology Student Association (BEUSA) and Sustainable UCR were some of the few student organizations that partook in the festivities. Advocating safe space, healthy food and strong community, members of CLP taught visitors how to make seed bombs, which involved placing seeds in compressed balls of soil and throwing them into urban, fertile fields.

Among the network of community and campus organizations, many residents of the Riverside community turned out to support and promote the grand opening.

Third-year student Gustavo Hurtado spoke of his involvement with the Child Leader Project, which is a student organization that advocates local projects in the surrounding community, such as the “Growing Arlanza” initiative, which was aimed at providing fresh fruits and vegetables in the neighboring community of Riverside.

Alex Villegas, the California organizer of the Real Food Challenge, a national organization that empowers youths for an equal and just food system, also spoke at the grand opening. “This garden is the culmination of really hard work and organizing and cooperation between students, staff, faculty and community members. It’s really important for students to learn inside the classroom and also apply skills outside the classroom. So we should really celebrate the fact that this space is going to be available,” Villegas said.

The presentation ended with the first planting, where visitors lined up in a large dirt row and were given hairy vetch seeds to sow into the ground. Hairy vetch is a nitrogen-legume plant that is naturally absorbent.

Morales expressed the desire the growth of permaculture, in which the garden becomes self-sustaining, through the upcoming design process.  “It’s going to change the way [the garden] looks…from the traditional row,” stated Morales. “So we want to bring that design process and bring all those people together to plan that out in the spring.”

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