What if a shovel, a seed and a conversation could change the world?

Students of University Repair find themselves asking such questions every day.

University Repair is a project founded by students of the Kresge Garden Co-op, and acts as a class that tends to and upkeeps the Kresge Garden. The group holds weekly World Café meetings where students discuss themes relating to educational and environmental issues important to the university.

Self-proclaimed as a “thriving powerhouse of creativity and abundance,” University Repair incorporates gardening and conversation with the students’ vision of a “regenerative culture.” This vision means focusing in on the cultivation of an abundant, thriving, and self-perpetuating social and ecological community. Inspired by the collaborative and community-based initiatives of both the garden and the café, these regenerative visions are becoming a reality.

“[University Repair] is truly experiencing a renaissance, a rapidly growing number of individuals and groups involved with what we are doing,” said second-year Ryan Abelson, an environmental studies major, teaching assistant for the Kresge co-op class and participant in the World Café. “The increased amount of human interest has allowed for the creative imagination of the collective intelligence to flourish in many unique directions.”

The Campus Sustainability Council (CSC) collaborates with the university to finance environmentally friendly and sustainability-promoting organizations on campus, according to a UC Santa Cruz Student Union Assembly (SUA) description. A ballot measure passed in 2005, meant to ensure and improve the quality of campus sustainability, charges students $6 in student fees each quarter to fund these types of environmentally friendly efforts. The CSC then allocates this sum of money to various organizations bi-annually. 

After seeing a recent increase in interest and activity in their program, University Repair students sent in a grant proposal to the CSC on April 30.  They asked for $35,000 of the total measure money.

If they secure the grant money, University Repair will be able to purchase new tools for the Kresge gardening class, remove dead oak trees, expand the co-op class, provide TA and faculty stipends, and improve garden infrastructure overall. The money would also help expand the World Café program to other colleges across campus, increase the size of their gatherings, and sponsor similar universitywide forums.

“I see it as a generous thank-you gift or investment from our tuition fees back into the hands of students, so we can create the change we see and desire,” Abelson said.


The Kresge Garden

The Kresge Garden was created during the late 1970s and early 1980s by students and volunteers. Since then, the garden has seen periods of fallow and flourish. With the creation of the Kresge Garden co-op and class in 2007, students and faculty have witnessed the garden’s immense growth. Every year, the class has grown in size, with 29 students currently enrolled. 

First-year Ayden Graham, a music major enrolled in the co-op class for the first time this quarter, has seen and tasted the fruits of hard labor through the work he has done.          

“It’s been delightful,” Graham said. “It’s cool to look around and see, ‘Oh yeah, I planted that entire bed right there. I dug and planted it, and it’s going really well.’” 

However, the growth in student interest has caused a lack of available resources. Many of the tools used in the garden have either been donated or scavenged by the students themselves. As of now, there is only one completely functional watering can. 

Though a seemingly simple request, second-year University Repair student Phineas Ellis suggested that achieving sustainable goals will be very difficult without more gardening tools. 

“If we’re working towards sustainability, I think everyone should know how to garden, or at least have an opportunity to do that, to work with a shovel,” Ellis said, “but we don’t have enough shovels.” 

Dave Shaw, instructor of the class, said that new tools are vital if the co-op’s visions of expansion are to be fulfilled.

“For the garden to grow with ease and grace it’s necessary to have the right tools,” he said. “Will our project be stopped if we don’t have funds for the best quality tools? No, it will continue, because it’s not dependent upon any outside force. It will grow. But in what way? How easy and graceful will it be?” 

With the money, students at the garden intend to maximize their efficiency. Though certain tools such as watering cans and forged bulldog spades must be bought brand-new, other tools will be purchased at flea markets or through Craigslist.com.

First-year Anna Capurso has been involved with the garden since winter quarter and is now a teaching assistant for the co-op class. She said that the grant money would help students focus more on gardening and less on finding ways around faulty materials.

“[The grant] would … allow us to focus on expanding the vision even more, rather than attempting to find outside resources and continue to work with broken tools,” she said. “It would just ease the process.”

Included in Capurso’s and other students’ vision for the co-op is the plan to help other colleges have thriving community gardens of their own.

“I would like to see every college have a thriving garden, as well as a class to accompany it and teach incoming students the ways of gardening,” she said. “I see the Kresge Garden co-op as a foundation for the other gardens … we can lend our time and resources.”


The World Café

The World Café began in 2007 as an avenue to gather students on a weekly basis and serve as a collaborative space for all students to dialogue about campus issues, which University Repair sees as a vital step toward enacting change in UCSC.

“The World Café is the time to put the shovels down and use our most fundamental of tools: the power of conversation,” Abelson said. “When the body is well-fed it becomes a lot easier to entertain a dialogue around current meaningful issues.”

Every week a new topic is discussed, ranging from sustainability to budget cuts proposed by the administration.

On May 12, students and faculty members gathered to discuss the cuts that the community studies program may face next year. Posters pinned along the walls provided thought-provoking quotes and phrases. One of them, from Mark Twain, read “Education consists mainly in what we have unlearned.”

First-year Amelia Baker, a community studies major herself, has been integral to the writing and submitting of the grant proposal. She led the May 12 meeting and continues to take an active role in both the café and the garden.

“All you’re really doing when you host a World Café is providing a space and a time for people to connect,” Baker said. “It always turns out interesting. Most of the work is in just showing up.”

Though those involved say these café meetings will continue regardless of whether the grant goes through or not, the grant funds would help to strengthen and enlarge their gatherings.

“It is truly a rare place in which we all become teachers and students to listen and also share personal involvement, concerns or knowledge,” Abelson said. “The creative collective intelligence really has no boundaries to imagine when a positive place of nonviolent equality and good food and tea is created, which is exactly what we aim to create in the garden as well.”


A Regenerative Culture

The University Repair project describes itself as “an incubator for projects which regenerate themselves.” A large theme of the grant proposal revolves around the idea of “integrated eco-social design,” a concept that plans to “integrate ecological and social elements of sustainability to build a regenerative culture at UCSC.”

Dimitri “Dima” Zadorozhny does not take the Kresge co-op class for credit, but has contributed an immense amount of time toward the writing of the grant proposal and frequently works on improving the quality of the garden. He regularly attends World Café meetings, where he takes an active role in the discussions.

“Regenerative culture is a concept that builds on the concept of ‘sustainability,’” Zadorozhny said. “While sustainability simply means being able to use something over and over without depleting it, regenerative culture means being able to use something over and over in a way that allows it to grow more abundant, and there is actually more of it because of your interaction with it.”

This is University Repair’s ultimate goal: to create a culture that is regenerative, thriving, and constantly growing through self-perpetuation — rather than a culture that merely sustains. 

In order to spread this message to the greater UCSC community, University Repair hopes to use some of the grant money to develop a quarterly workshop designed to teach gardening skills and provide seeds to interested students. A similar workshop, planned for the winter quarter of 2010 — pending grant approval — would teach students tree-growing techniques and provide them with a tree of their own.

“I don’t want to just sustain the garden, I want the garden to be regenerating so each year it is fertile and every year there is more and more,” University Repair student Ellis said. “The grant will help this place be that much more effective in what it does.”

Ayden Graham commented on the regenerative lessons he’s learned since starting his work in the garden and attending the World Café meetings.

“It’s really exciting to understand [gardening] because I feel like even with this small amount of knowledge that I’ve gained here, I can take plants and plant them in a small plot in a backyard whenever,” Graham said. “I get a house, and start a garden.” 


Visions of the Future 

Though at print time it was still undecided whether or not the grant would pass, students optimistically looked to the future. 

While teaching assistant Capurso, like many of the students involved with University Repair, hopes to see money sent toward the gardening program and the World Café, she said that the vision of the gardeners will remain strong regardless of whether the group secures the grant funds.

“I believe that we would still be completely functional and continue to grow without funding,” Capurso said. “We are a determined group of people and we can accomplish a lot.”

Instructor Dave Shaw believes that while the money is important, the opportunity to establish a relationship with the CSC is a bigger step toward fulfilling their long-term goals.

“The fact that we’re building a core group of interested participants and the fact that we’re in a conversation now with more stakeholders … is super important,” Shaw said.

Zadorozhny agreed that though the grant is important, other things are more important than the money, and the group members will do whatever it takes to keep the garden growing.

“If we don’t get the grant, things will definitely keep going,” Zadorozhny said. “It’ll just be trickier. We’ll have to get more creative.” 


University Repair holds potluck meetings each Monday from 5 to 6 p.m. The World Café meets every Tuesday at 7 p.m. Both meetings are located in the Kresge Student Lounge. The Kresge Garden is open weekdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information, visit theworldcafe.com.