Mata Elangovan / The Highlander

The R’Garden was started in 2012 by students, for students. It became a place for the student body to gather safely and grow their own produce. Currently, its location is the midpoint between the university and the city, and hosts a plethora of events and services for the community of Riverside. The R’Garden encourages engagements in education regarding food security, climate, and urban farming. 

During Winter quarter of the 2022-2023 school year, Christian Valdez led a team from the R’Garden to get financial support through the referendum process. The funding would help the R’Garden battle food insecurity by having students pay a $10 quarterly fee. With the increased funding, they aimed to hire professional career staff to serve as outreach coordinators and educators, support field operations and programming to ensure university students can continue to have free access to freshly harvested produce. The referendum aimed to integrate the R’Garden with the Basic Needs Department under the Health Wellness and Safety Division. As well as many other benefits such as expanding education by creating a learning laboratory, engaging with campus and reducing food waste and promoting composting, purchasing new equipment to operate at full capacity and begin long term, necessary projects such as a permanent office, and connect with the student population.

According to the Interim Director of ASUCR, Brendan O’Brien, after submitting the referendum through the appropriate channels, administration determined that there was insufficient time to review and approve of the referendum before the elections. The referendum itself was missing significant details and did not include sufficient justification to increase student fees. Resulting in a halt in the process, meaning that the R’Garden will have to wait to secure funding the following school year.

According to the Valdez, finding support was a difficult task. In most cases when a referendum is presented, it is presented by the department head or advisor. However, in the case of the R’Garden referendum that responsibility fell on students. Emails were sent to request support and more information to help prepare to present the referendum. The referendum also required departmental support. CNAS was unavailable but the team was able to get the Basic Needs Department to sign off on the referendum. 

Richard Zapien, the current supervisor of the R’Garden, states that “The pantry will take as much as they can. Once they’re full, we’re stuck with all the produce that we’re still harvesting because you can’t turn off nature. So there’s a surplus of food being stored in our cooler. So now we need students to come here to pick up this produce or the food will go bad. Luckily we have a cooler which will maintain it. But after that, we still have continuous produce coming in, so it’s going to overflow. So then at that point, we give it to dining, we’d give it to anybody that will take it.”

Without a proper outreach team, they find difficulty distributing crops. Currently, the R’Garden manages food distribution and community outreach through the efforts of volunteers and student employees. They table every wednesday in an effort to make information about the R’Garden more accessible to the student population and ensure that more students know about their services and organization. 

The R’Garden produces thousands of pounds of produce harvested each year. According to Zapien, the R’Garden is not used at full capacity. Interns and workers are capped at 12 hours a week due to lack of funding and the cooler cannot handle the amount of produce which limits production capacity. Instead of a commercial washing station they instead have a temporary sink that is nowhere near big enough to handle the amount of produce that needs to be washed. Break-ins occur at such a rate that now the gate is left unlocked because it would simply get cut open time and time again. 

Although the University benefits from the services that the R’Garden provides, there is an evident lack of meaningful support. Zapien recalls, “Dr. Drake, the president, talks about all these things happening, and is super excited about this, yet, he’s ignored this place. We’ve been in headlines, we’ve been in national magazines. We’ve done so much stuff and yet there is zero credit.”

The R’Garden has played a great role in sustaining UCR, and now, it is in great need of help in return from its community.