Scripps Student Garden Cultivates Crops and Community

By Ella Murdock Gardner ’22

In the sun-drenched patio behind Browning Residence Hall, Sophie Perry ’22 and Sophie Navratil ’22 walk around the Scripps Student Garden, pointing out the beds of kale and swiss chard, the soon-to-be strawberry patch, and several wispy shoots of emerging spring onions. “We’ll sometimes get aphids in the spring, but we pest-manage pretty easily with soap and water in a spray bottle,” says Perry, bending down to check the robust leaves of a “dinosaur kale” for the tiny green bugs. “We do have a resident gopher, though,” chimes in Navratil. “It feels like every time we come out here, we find a different gopher mound. They appear and disappear just as fast.” Sure enough, over winter break, the prolific gopher had left its mark in a patch of overgrown turnips.

Perry, an environmental science major, and Navratil, a media studies major, are co-coordinators of the Scripps Student Garden, a club that cultivates these crops at weekly meetings and hosts events aimed at growing students’ knowledge of sustainable environmental practices on and off campus. After more than a year of remote learning amid the pandemic, the garden needed a serious refresh, so club members immediately got to work weeding, amending the soil with compost, and planting new seeds.

“I think we had one kale plant that survived the pandemic and was taller than me,” Perry says. “The fruit trees were all alive because the Scripps grounds crew had been taking care of them. Although it was dusty and desolate overall, it was fun to see what had persisted.”

While the pandemic forced the Scripps Student Garden to hit pause on some of their previous programs, the club has been working to foster community throughout the return to campus. “I feel very lucky that our club is all about being outside in nature, since that has allowed us to host events safely,” Navratil says. Last semester, the club conducted volunteer trips to a Huerta Del Valle local community garden and organized a jewelry-making workshop where attendees got to learn about plants around campus, press flowers and leaves, and preserve these clippings in resin. This semester the club hopes to host events where students can learn about the medicinal properties of plants around campus, fashion garlands out of overripe blood-oranges, and create natural dyes (when we met, Navratil was sporting a knit shirt that Perry had made using only natural dyes and fibers).

Perry, who helped revitalize the club during her first year at Scripps and has since worked at a 65-acre vegetable farm in Martha’s Vineyard for two consecutive summers, developed her taste for gardening as a counselor at a summer camp in Vermont. “I always led the gardening activities, and I loved seeing how excited the kids were to watch their seeds grow and try different vegetables for the first time,” she says.

Like Perry, Navratil hails from the East Coast. Learning about the native plants helped her put down roots—figuratively and literally—in the California environment, and the Scripps Student Garden has provided a kind of home away from home. “Growing up, my dad would recruit me to help him around the garden, so I’ve always associated gardening with family,” she says. “Not to sound corny, but I feel like the gardening club is a kind of family on campus.”

This sense of community is what drew Ishta Nabbaka ’23 to the Scripps Student Garden. Nabbaka, who will take over leadership when “the Sophies” graduate, started going to the garden during her first year as a rejuvenating break from schoolwork and stayed for the collaborative environment. “The knowledge about the plants and the responsibility for caring for them is something generational, passed down from one class of students to the next,” she says. “It’s a great way to feel grounded, both with the environment and the people around you.”