Previously known as Cultivate R’Space in the mid 2000’s, the club has since rebranded in the past year and is now known as the UCR Gardening Club. The club was officially re-established during fall 2020, and since then, the UCR Gardening Club has greatly expanded and flourished despite the looming pandemic. They’ve intrigued students with their goals to combat food insecurity through sustainability and community resilience. 

Despite the club having been renamed and rebranded during the COVID-19 pandemic, it has grown in the past year by utilizing online platforms, such as Instagram, to recruit members. Kali Krishnan, secretary of the UCR Gardening Club and second-year applied mathematics and public policy major, stated that the club has gone from “zero to over 80 members since the initiation of the club.” 

Krishnan was able to create the club’s website from scratch. For board members such as Arely Gomez, social media coordinator and second-year psychology major, this effort is indicative of why the club means a lot to her. “At the beginning, we did not have much. We didn’t even have a logo.” said Gomez. “Through teamwork, we were able to shape the club into what it is today.”

As a result, the 2020-2021 board members are all essentially the founding members of the UCR Gardening Club. Leslie Rendon, a fourth-year sustainability studies major and club president, stated, “Despite a rough and very unpredictable beginning, as a club we’ve developed incredibly meaningful relationships and have virtually advocated for our main pillars while helping fund the R’Garden’s activities during these trying times.” According to their website, the mission of the organization is to raise awareness about local sustainable food systems and environmental justice, while empowering students to take collaborative action. 

Being a student-led club, the Gardening Club works closely with the UCR Community Garden, otherwise dubbed the R’Garden. The R’Garden provides fruits and vegetables to the R’Pantry and in turn helps students who face food insecurity. As a result of COVID-19 budget cuts, the R’Garden has faced financial difficulties due to lack of funding by UCR, but the Gardening Club aims to provide support for the R’Garden. Rendon stated, “The Gardening Club is an extra source of income for the severely underfunded community garden on campus.” This is done by spearheading fundraisers with the intention of handing out a large percentage of proceeds over to the R’Garden. 

To date, the UCR Gardening Club has hosted fundraisers in support, such as the Valentine Gram Fundraiser. According to Krishan, Valentine grams were a “new and original idea that tied our concept of gardening with that of a COVID-friendly project that could spread some joy to people who haven’t been able to see each other due to the pandemic. It was extremely successful. We put together and mailed out 60 orders.”

The club has also collaborated with R’Garden for produce sales that included oranges, pumpkins and celery in hopes of providing financial support to the R’Garden. The club recently won a $1,000 giveaway for being the most voted for organization and plans to donate around half to the R’Garden. According to Andrea Delgado, a second-year environmental science major and community outreach coordinator for the Gardening Club, “As the link and direct support to the R’Garden, the Gardening Club strives to advocate for our community garden given its vital role in not only providing produce to the R’Pantry, but serving as a food hub and inclusive space for community building and student learning.”

Alongside the clubs efforts to fund the R’Garden they also focus on educating members on a variety of topics to create discourse about community gardens, water-wise gardening, local food insecurity and gardening in general. These discussions are usually held during the clubs biweekly meetings and also sometimes invite guest speakers that do community work related to the club’s mission. In the past, UCR Community Garden Manager Richard Zapien was invited to the club’s meetings as a guest speaker. According to Delgado, this is done so “in order to provide a fresh and knowledgeable perspective on such essential topics.” 

In honor of Earth Week, club members have given tips and advice to people who might be interested in gardening or reducing waste. According to Rendon in an interview with The Highlander, if you wish to reduce waste in your own home, starting a compost pile is a great way of doing so. Krishnan shared the same sentiments and added that “in terms of helping the environment, planting something — be it a tree or a bush, or just a flower — can be so beneficial to our air, and to the other plants and animals that live around us.”  If this sounds overwhelming Gomez advises to start small by recycling, picking up trash from the floor or even shifting to using reusable water bottles. “Awareness of any issues that may exist is half the battle of fixing them,” stated Krishnan. 

If you’re interested in learning the ins and outs of gardening, feel free to sign up on HighlanderLink for their newsletter or check out the Gardening Club’s Instagram page, @ucrgardening, for up-to-date information on club meetings and gardening tips. Lastly, Delgado shared that “the institutionalized presence of the R’Garden means a step towards food security for Highlanders who are in need, and we hope to motivate student advocacy to ensure that our garden’s legacy and its impacts live on.”