Hillel Center brings diverse students together to garden

Pablo Belloso Chavez

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Photo Caption: Pablo Chavez/ Staff Reporter

Just outside the front walls and lining the outer windows of CSUN’s Hillel Center on Plummer Street, there is a small, unobtrusive garden, which demonstrates student’s efforts towards environmentalism.

The Hillel Center, or the Hillel Foundation for Jewish Campus Life, has a mission to inspire Jewish students to improve their community and follow tikkun olam, which means repair the world, according to the CSUN Hillel web site.

Renee L. Goodwin, director for the Hillel Center, said the garden was started last fall by a group of students interested in sustainability that were excited about creating an organic vegetable garden but needed a plot of land, at which point the program director offered the Hillel Center’s front yard.

“It was going to take quite a bit of time to be able to find a piece of land on campus,” Goodwin said. “And now it’s here and we’re always looking for students to help take care of it. There are a couple of students connected to Hillel, but it didn’t start with Hillel students. It started as a diverse group of students who really cared about making this happen.”
The organic garden contains artichokes, tomatoes, red-leaf lettuce, swiss chard, heirloom corn, turnips, radishes, mustard greens, spinach, zucchinis, sweet peas, squash and beans which have all been used for salads and soups by a variety of students, staff and volunteers.

Roger Motti, a graduate student in geography who was part of that initial sustainability group and who works to maintain the garden, thinks it was difficult getting students involved but it’s going well now with many volunteers.

“It was hard, but we built and grew everything for under a $100,” Motti said. “It’s tough, as a student (to) eat healthy and try to get the money to buy fresh fruits and vegetables. I’m grateful that I had fresh vegetables all year round and I didn’t have to buy any, which is pretty great.”

Judy Alban, assistant director for the Hillel Center, said the zucchini is particularly delicious.

“We decided to have this partnership with this group, it was a mutual thing,” Alban said.

Both Alban and Goodwin are glad that there is drive among students to build and promote sustainability issues, especially because it was a collaboration born from students of all backgrounds.

“It’s a nice partnership with CSUN, it’s broader. We got kids from all religions and majors working on it, it’s given us some diversity on campus and it’s a program that you don’t have to be Jewish to understand about it,” Alban said. “It’s important to everybody, and it transcends some of what Hillel does, and as Jews it’s important for us to be responsible participants in this world.”

Goodwin said the importance of thinking “green” is vital to what the Hillel Center stands for and hopes that students continue to work on promoting environmentalism.

“Hillel is really committed to being a part of the bigger community so for us to be able to provide this opportunity for students of all different backgrounds is really much in line with what we’re here to be about,” Goodwin said.

Environmentalism has become the trendy thing to do for many, but it is still important, Goodwin said. He added that he hopes the Hillel Center will help Jewish students be a part of the greater community.

“It’s something that especially among this generation is really becoming so important,” said Goodwin. “Hopefully we can be a place that supports students in whatever their passions are, so we’re here to help students pursue their interests and passions.”

Motti, who is working on getting students interested in sustainability projects like the Hillel garden, thinks it’s important that everyone learn how to grow their own food.

“What I want to do is teach people how to get in touch with their food again so that they start eating healthier,” Motti said. “I’m working with (Hillel) to hopefully get more students to work in the garden regularly. I’m hoping we get a lot more students and professors interested, that’ll be great.”