UC Village residents hold harvest festival

By Cathy Cockrell, Public Affairs


baby, pumpkin

Univeristy Village resident Alex Chai gets into the harvest spirit at last Saturday’s festival in the village’s community garden. Alex’s father, Jin Chai, is a computer sciences graduate student; his mom, Xiao Chai, is a grad student in biology.
Peg Skorpinski photo

30 October 2002 | For the 3,300 students and family members from 68 countries who call University Village in Albany home, there’s one place that serves literally as common ground: the three-acre community garden bordered by housing units and railroad tracks. It’s there that students from North and South America, Asia, Africa, and Europe share vegetables, gardening tips, and recipes from their native countries; where their kids pick flowers and blackberries; and relatives from overseas, unversed in English, can comfortably spend time.

On Saturday, Oct. 26, residents turned out in force to celebrate the garden and the season, with a harvest festival potluck abounding in homegrown pumpkins, picturesque hay bales, and a United Nations of children masquerading as fairies, jungle animals, and bumblebees.

At one popular table, staff from the Depot for Creative Reuse, based in South Berkeley, turned out about 100 swords and 50 wands, plus a number of masks and crowns — made from recycled paper and plastic — for costume-conscious kids.

“Most kids come in demanding swords,” said a Creative Reuse staffer. Not all of the sword-bearers were male, he noted. “Girls want swords, too; they’ve been watching Xena.”

Many things pumpkin figured into the afternoon: pumpkin carving, pumpkin painting, and a ring toss onto pumpkin stems. Late in the day, a children’s African drumming ensemble staged a procession in through the garden gates and between its well-tended plots. Leading the troupe was a dancer sporting a traditional harvest mask from the Ivory Coast; its members included several young village residents.

Green space, food source
A Victory Garden during World War II, when the village housed shipbuilders and their families, the garden today provides a strong sense of place for a transient student community. For $15 a year, residents rent plots averaging 15x15 feet in size, where they grow flowers and food crops, and sometimes erect sheds, swings, or offbeat works of art.

Kevin Dickson, a Ph.D. student in South and Southeast Asian Studies, has been a booster of the garden ever since he came to the village as a Berkeley undergrad. He and his wife, alumna and staff member Siti Juwariyah, are now tending their winter vegetables — garlic, peas, broccoli, cabbage, and chard. They also grow a large flower bush favored by hummingbirds.

“There’s not very much green space left in this whole area, and it’s constantly shrinking,” Dickson says. “Here there’s a little bit of habitat left. Hummingbirds, red-shouldered hawks, and amphibians have a refuge.”

Garden manager Timothy Cleves says residents are encouraged to compost their kitchen scraps, and are discouraged from using chemical pesticides and herbicides in the garden. On his own bit of dirt, Cleves grows all the summer greens he can eat. He says many Village residents, particularly those from Asia, grow most of their produce in the garden.

Outdoor classroom
The space serves, as well, as a classroom for village families. Led by collaborators from the College of Natural Resources, residents have learned composting and mulching techniques, and one year kept records on their harvest for a research study on urban community gardens.

Less formal instruction — on tree pruning, jam making and the like — goes on all the time. So do tips for outwitting garden pests — like a powdery-mildew spray, made of water and skim milk, that’s been making the rounds of late.

Julie Tilsner, wife of third-year law student Luke Howitt and mother of two young children, referred to the village as “an old-fashioned neighborhood, where everyone knows everyone. Except it’s totally multicultural,” she added.

As Tilsner spoke, her 5-1/2-year-old, Anna — decked out in pink fairy costume — bushwhacked through a nearby clump of grass.

“The kids love to pick tomatoes and see how things grow,” Tilsner said. “It’s very relaxing, when you’re a stressed-out student family, to come out and work the land.”


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