What used to be an empty space filled with grass and weeds on the outskirts of campus is now a flourishing garden complete with flowers, fruits, vegetables and even chickens.
The garden, located on the student experimental farm, is entirely maintained by student volunteers from Cal Poly’s Garden Club. Their mission is to implement sustainable agricultural practices.
The club was created in Fall 2018 by civil engineering junior and current club president Cameron Lilly, who said his passion for gardening stemmed from his family’s personal garden at home.
“I started [gardening] my senior year of high school, and I instantly got addicted,” Lilly said.
Lilly carried this hobby to his freshman year of college, where he planted the seed for the club by starting a garden in the hills behind the Yosemite residence halls. The university eventually removed the garden, Lilly said, but by then he had officially formed the Garden Club and relocated to the student experimental farm.
“[The Yosemite garden’s removal] was like a blessing in disguise,” Lilly said. “We were able to put all our energy up here now, and it’s been pretty amazing what we have been able to do recently.”
Every Sunday morning, club members arrive at the farm and complete various tasks, from planting fruit trees to feeding chickens to harvesting herbs for tea.
The club’s overarching goal, however, is to incorporate permaculture farming techniques into their gardening, according to Lilly. Permaculture is a method of sustainable agriculture “achieved by planting plants, raising animals, maintaining healthy soil and many other aspects that all work together harmoniously to cultivate a well-rounded and balanced system,” according to the Garden Club website.
Club members grow select plant species in a particular way so that they form mutually beneficial relationships with each other and maintain the garden’s biodiversity to maintain the permaculture system.
“If you provide the right environment, [the plants] will kind of flourish on their own,” Lilly said. “They are an organism on their own and they want to survive as much as we want to survive.”
Students also incorporate animals into the ecosystem, such as insects that eat pests and chickens that help fertilize the soil.
Environmental earth and soil science sophomore Emma Chantegros joined the club in Fall 2019 after a sustainable farming trip to Ecuador inspired her to learn more about how organisms are connected.
“Garden Club focuses on using the things we already have and how plants work together to be more productive,” Chantegros said.
The club also collects student’s food scraps and composts them. Although they do not have an official collection system yet, Lilly said it is a goal they are working towards.
Through permaculture, composting and other practices, club members said they hope to encourage alternative farming methods.
“The whole goal of Garden Club is to prove that you can make money from this regenerative method, where we’re actually helping the environment recover instead of taking so much from the environment, which is like the current method of farming,” Lilly said.
Lilly said he hopes Cal Poly will provide more funding next quarter and paid positions for students so they can make a profit from their sustainable farming methods.
According to Lilly, the club consists of students from a variety of backgrounds and majors, from agriculture to liberal arts to engineering.
“Anyone can garden,” Lilly said. “It’s a lot easier than people think.”