By Maggie Sowell | email@example.com
On any given day of the academic year, Sonoma State senior Sophia Pruden is likely to be found in work gloves and mud-streaked pants, tending to a small plot of land positioned that is tucked between the Children’s School and the Environmental Technology Center. There, at the campus garden, Sophia and her fellow garden stewards work to build soil health, increase biodiversity, and produce organic fruits and vegetables for fellow Seawolves and the local community.
This relatively small garden with a modest greenhouse, various beds of seasonal vegetables, and a small grove of fruit trees provides such a weekly bounty that Sophia often has difficulty fitting it all into her Toyota Prius. Loaded high with baskets of fresh produce, it is in this Prius that she delivers the garden’s weekly harvests to two critically important local food distribution hubs — NOAH’s Food Pantry in Rohnert Park and Lobo’s Pantry on campus.
“I love getting to deliver the harvests every week and meeting the people who receive our produce,” Sophia said. “And I love getting to witness the biodiversity of the garden space, and the rewarding process of watching food grow from seed. I planted potatoes and squash in August and just harvested them in November. It makes me appreciate food more and feel more connected to the seasons.”
Though she grew up in a gardening family — raising chickens with her dad, composting the family’s food scraps, preserving vegetable harvests from the family gardens — Sophia never imagined she would be leading stewardship efforts at the campus garden, studying agriculture and environmental systems, or be so intimately involved in Sonoma State’s Geography, Environment, and Planning Department (GEP).
“When I came to SSU I never thought of agriculture as a career option,” she said with a laugh. “Then I started working in the campus garden and realized how happy and at peace I am when I work there. And I started gaining hard skills and interning at community gardens and local farms. I learned more about food systems and agroecology and both topics are now passions.”
Sophia credits Agroecology (GEP 318), Native Plant Propagation (GEP 319), Global Food Systems (GEP 325), and Applied Ecology (GEP 340) as just a few of the courses that have influenced her academic journey at Sonoma State. Now concentrating in Society, Environment, and Development, Sophia focuses her academic work on environmental systems, food sovereignty — the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods — and climate change, paying particular attention to the ways in which people interact with their environments.
“I really enjoy growing food for myself and others, educating people about food sovereignty, and learning how to work and restore spaces while producing food,” she said.
And that’s exactly what she has done and continues to do at the campus garden. Sophia and her fellow garden stewards practice agroecology, a method of producing food in sustainable and regenerative ways that focus on equity and social wellbeing. The small-scale production at the campus garden works to conserve, protect, and enhance natural resources, helping to bolster biodiversity, strengthen soil health, and build resilience to climate change — all while improving the lives of our community members through the production of free, easily accessible nutritious food. This fall, they’ve harvested an abundance of self-sown, nutrient-dense chard and bok choy, broccoli and kale, tomatillos, mustard greens, and patty pan and butternut squash. Everything harvested at the garden is donated, fueling the health of our Seawolves and our neighbors facing food insecurity in Rohnert Park and Cotati.
It’s an especially rewarding experience this semester, the first since the COVID-19 pandemic closed campus garden to students. When Sophia returned to the gardens in early summer, she found bermuda grass had encroached on the vegetable beds, weeds had flourished, hedgerows had died, and hemlock pine seedlings had grown tall, towering well above ten feet. The task of managing the overgrowth and returning the garden to pre-pandemic conditions was a daunting one. But Sophia was determined.
“I worked with SSU Professor Caiti Hachmyer, who also owns and operates Red H Farm in Sebastopol, to douse the vegetable beds with worm casting tea, mulch with straw, and tarp,” she said of her time in the garden last summer. “This protected the soil moisture and biodiversity and prevented bermuda grass from overtaking everything.”
The restoration efforts proved impactful — harvests were plentiful throughout the fall semester, bees, butterflies and other pollinators returned to visit beds of zinnias and other blooming flowers, frog populations flourished, and beneficial hedgerows were restored, helping to block the wind and protect growing vegetables. As we head into winter, Sophia and her team are preparing the garden for the cold months ahead. They’ve planted cover crops from seed, which will feed the soil with essential nutrients, like nitrogen, covered beds with new mulch to keep the soil warm and protected, and moved spring plantings to the greenhouse where they are already starting to sprout. They will continue to care for the soil and remaining plant life so that the space remains healthy and ready for warmer seasons ahead, and will harvest what they can throughout the winter months — kale, swiss chard, and other winter greens — to continue nourishing our community.
Seeking food assistance?
On-campus Sonoma State students seeking fresh vegetables can visit a pop-up Lobo’s Pantry event or contact Sophia directly at firstname.lastname@example.org to coordinate a harvest pick up. Off-campus students in the area can place a drop-off order. Place your order online using your SSU ID. Online ordering will continue to be available over the winter break!
Interested in volunteering in the garden?
The campus garden is always looking for volunteers who aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty to help feed our community! Follow the campus garden on Instagram @ssugarden for updates on volunteer hours and events.