Club Grow is growing

The summer heat has set in, there are tomatoes to harvest, and the pole beans are abundant at the Santa Monica College Organic Learning Garden. The garden is in full swing, and so was Club Grow last Tuesday during their first week in session this fall, as members gathered to introduce themselves and connect with one another through food, knowledge and nature.

Club participants hailed from as many diverse backgrounds as the plants in the garden—some freeform, others tied back and manicured.

Bradley Tucker, an SMC student taking general education classes, said that he arrives on campus early, “to sit in the garden.”

“It was the smell of the basil,” Tucker said, that had always attracted him, and interested him in Club Grow membership.

Shirley Smith, who noticed the garden on her way to yoga class, has worked in India and Africa to present better growing practices, and currently participates in other garden programs throughout Beverly Hills and Los Angeles.

Art major Karn Ashimyan, who “couldn’t get into two different classes,” said that he “was passing by, and decided to do this instead.”

Club Grow president Zhenya Kechina, a theater arts major at SMC, said that she never imagined she would be “interested in gardening and educating people about health and the food industry.”

Kechina said that in Kazakhstan, where she grew up, people tend to have a stronger connection between food and health than she has witnessed in America, and she is interested in helping others lessen that gap.

“I felt that this is how I’m going to contribute to the world, besides acting,” Kechina said. “I want to help people, open their eyes, [and] wake them up from a deep sleep.”

As the meeting came to order, chairs were overflowing as many new members signed up, and future Club Grow activities and topics were discussed. The club’s agenda included organizing to share knowledge, pumping collected rainwater from the 22,000-gallon cistern in the garden, and having fun while learning about gardening in the coming months.

Genevieve Bertone, director of sustainability at SMC, was present to help coordinate efforts.

Missing from the week’s activities was Dana Morgan, tenured English professor at SMC and adviser to Club Grow, as she was representing SMC and the Organic Learning Garden in Sonoma County at the National Heirloom Exposition, which celebrates “heirloom agriculture,” and “pure food.”

As the meeting adjourned, gardeners moved on to weeding and planting. Some gathered together while others concentrated alone in particular areas of interest.

In the small yet bustling 3,200-square-foot garden space, it is now time for sowing onion seeds and smelling the basil.

Visiting hours at the garden are from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday, and it is open to anyone. Club Grow meets on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 11:15 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.