Forget that can of ravioli, at-risk students who use the Beach Pantry now have access to fresh and organic vegetables — grown right here at Cal State Long Beach.
The Grow Beach Organic Garden completed its first harvest of the semester last week as campus farmers who rent these plots have opted to donate the “fruits of their labor” to Associated Student Inc.’s Beach Pantry.
Grow Beach is an initiative that has allowed students, faculty and alumni to participate in growing fruits and vegetables in their own plot on school grounds since 2014 in order to further the university’s efforts in cultivating a sustainable campus.
The organic garden, located on the corner of Atherton Street and Earl Warren Drive, has 35 boxes of soil that are available for students, staff and faculty to rent.
Crops rooted in the garden consist of, but are not limited to, lettuce, swiss chard, kale, green onions, collards, spinach, bok choy, tomatoes, celery, cucumber, peas and beans.
Collaboration between the pantry and garden was initiated by faculty member Sina LiHang and Navy veteran Richard Dejarnett, both current gardeners in the Grow Beach Garden.
LiHang has worked on campus for 17 years as an information technology consultant for the College of Business. Last year, she was hospitalized for a month due to ongoing stress.
“The garden has really brought me back to life,” LiHang said. “…I sought refuge in the gardens.”
Every Tuesday and Thursday at 1 p.m., she harvests her crops with other volunteers.
Campus members can rent a 5-by-5 plot through the ASI Business Office or PayPal. Students who rent a plot pay $25 per year and staff, faculty and alumni pay $50 per year. Each plot-renter gains access to common garden tools and water, compost and waste disposal amenities.
These plots are also rented to students in gardening classes.
Rachael Wolff, a senior majoring in hospitality management, is enrolled in a hospitality food sustainability class that is involved with the garden.
Wolff serves a total of 20 hours for the semester in the garden for her class by planting vegetation, pulling weeds and watering her plants.
“It is up to us,” Wolff said. “Not only alumni from CSULB, but people in general, to learn how to grow our food sustainably so that we don’t actually end up killing the Earth.”
The garden is organic, so farmers are not allowed to bring chemicals that are considered “toxic” to use in their plot — only organic fertilizers are permitted.
The garden’s donations to the Beach Pantry fall under The Federal Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act, which encourages the donation of food to nonprofit organizations, as long as the food follows state and local health regulations.
The garden also has rules of its own, such as the prohibition of growing corn. Planting corn is forbidden from the garden because the vegetable can grow tall enough to cast a shadow on other plots, therefore hindering the growth of other vegetation that require sun.
“The rules for growing food explicitly for sale or donation by an organization are different than those that govern individual gardeners,” ASI Recycling Coordinator Eric Bryan said in an email. “So if they are able and willing to offer the food they’ve worked so hard to grow to students in need, then I just have another reason to feel good about where I work.”
Farmers in the garden may also receive supplies from sustainability activities and the CalFresh program, which was previously known as Food Stamps.