The Urban Gardening Certificate Program: Another Way to Get Involved with the Garden!

In a recent survey of participants at the jane b semel HCI Community Garden, 55.6% of participants agreed that the garden increased their sense of community at UCLA.  More than 50% agreed that the garden had inspired an increase in their consumption of fresh produce and 83% agreed or strongly agreed that participation increased their overall health. Gardening is known to not only encourage healthier eating habits and increase food security, but also provide a variety of surprising health benefits, including decreased risk of stroke, Alzheimer’s, and depression, as detailed in this article by Robin Jacobs. 

In 2015, the student club Dig: The Campus Garden Coalition at UCLA was inspired by these benefits and joys of gardening. Supported by the Semel HCI Center and its founder and visionary Jane B. Semel, Dig students designed the jane b semel HCI Community Garden at the Sunset Canyon Recreation Center. Dig has existed since long before the creation of the garden as the main student-led collaboration behind the expanding food growing and gardening program on UCLA’s campus. Now, the garden’s 31 beds are used for academic courses, by student organizations, and by small groups of students, staff, and faculty. For anyone interested in applying for a plot, all that is needed is a group of at least five UCLA affiliates with a shared desire to grow your own produce, then head to the garden’s website and select the “How to Join” tab.


The jane b semel HCI Community Garden.

Tangible Credit for Gardening at UCLA

In alignment with one of the garden’s original goals to educate UCLA students, staff, and faculty, the garden began to hold workshops and general workdays in 2016. At the beginning of the program, workdays were casual, but they became more structured as the garden expanded. The Urban Gardening Certificate Program (UGCP) was later created due to astounding demand for the academic course CHS (Community Health Sciences) 131: Healthy Food Access in Los Angeles. 

The UGCP is a free, flexible program recognizing a participant’s commitment to attending a series of workshops and events geared towards building fundamental knowledge of gardening. A collection of 5 workshops are held throughout the quarter, on topics such as growing methods, orchard culture, integrative pest management, soil health, and processing. Participants are awarded the certificate upon attending one workshop of each category and completing a few additional requirements detailed in the image below. For the program pilot, these five workshops are offered during both each winter and spring quarter, so if you’re unable to attend one in winter quarter, you can attend during the spring instead!


More information on the UGCP.

Examining the carbonation and SCOBY at a recent workshop on fermentation.

Making sauerkraut at a recent fermentation workshop.

To learn more about the jane b semel HCI Community Garden:


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Patience Olsen is an undergraduate student at UCLA majoring in Civil Engineering. In addition to blogging for the EatWell Pod, she volunteers at the Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden on campus, and is a member of the ASCE Environmental Design project.


Graduate Students at the Forefront of Veteran Food Security

“We truly need to integrate agriculture into our urban systems to tackle food insecurity for the populations that are most underserved.” -Kathleen Chen

Kathleen, a second year graduate student, and Yi Shen, a first year graduate student, are tackling food insecurity for over 50 veterans through an ambitious renovation of the VA (Veterans Affairs) Garden. The duo, both studying chemistry, work through the INFEWS (Innovations at the Nexus of Food, Energy, and Water Systems) program to improve access to nutritious food, create jobs, build community, and aid in therapy for psychological issues veterans often face.


Veterans and Volunteers Planting at the VA Garden. Photo by Tammy Wong.

The Facts on Food Insecurity

The USDA defines food insecurity as a state in which “consistent access to adequate food is limited by a lack of money and other resources at times during the year.” Two terms, low food security and very low food security break the definition down further. Low food security may result in reduced variety, quality, or desirability of diet, while very low food security, formerly known as food insecurity with hunger results in actual reduced food intake.

In America, 1 in 8 people report being in a state of food insecurity, and among veterans, the numbers are much higher. More than 1 in 4 veterans (27%) from Iraq and Afghanistan wars report problems with food security, where 15% of those surveyed reported low food security and 12% reported very low food security.


In 2016, UCLA committed a total of $16.5 million to a partnership with the Department of Veterans Affairs. This money was dedicated to, among other actions, the rejuvenation of the VA garden. This kickstarted the transformation of the area into a space for recreation, leisure, and therapy, as well as an easy way to provide nutritious food to veterans in the area. Yi and Kathleen’s project has been in the works since September 2018, and catalyzes the overall process through four objectives.

Kathleen and Yi’s “Four Specific Aims”

In order to achieve improved food security for veterans in the area, Kathleen and Yi outlined their goals as follows:

  1. Develop a planting guide and schedule for the 16 raised garden beds available. The planting guide includes not only which plants to sow, but also accounts for companion planting: how to combine plants to minimize water usage and support growth. The schedule outlines when to sow seeds, transfer sprouts to beds, water, fertilize, and finally harvest the produce.
  2. Determine which nearby public lands other than the raised beds may have potential to grow more food. Criteria are that the land is affordable to clear, close to a water source, fertile, and uncontaminated. This is done through collaboration with the INFEWS design team and soil testing team.
  3. Create a compost system. Currently, all compost materials are put on trucks and sent to an industrial composting plant, and the garden must purchase fertilizers from outside sources. An ideal system would cycle compost to fertilizer within the garden property, eliminating external processes. Another benefit of a composting system on-site is that it creates tasks for veteran-community engagement.
  4. Identify ways to inspire veterans to interact with the garden. This can be done through direct food distribution; classes on gardening, cooking, and nutrition; and temporary paid jobs, including maintenance of buildings and the garden.

Classes on gardening, cooking, and nutrition can be held in outdoor rooms near the garden. Photo by Yi Shen.

So far, Aims 1, 2, and 4 are close to completion, but the project ends for Kathleen and Yi at the end of Fall Quarter, 2018. Though they will no longer be heading the initiative, Kathleen plans to continue volunteering at the garden, and continue with her research in “soil conditioners to improve water conservation in agriculture.” She feels that the project “was really beneficial for giving context to [her] own research and strengthening [her] motivations.”

The garden restoration continues only with maintained volunteer contribution. Feeding more than 50 veterans through small-scale agriculture is no simple task, but the success of the program thus far signifies a major step towards improving food security for the veteran community as a whole.

To get involved with Kathleen and Yi’s project, either as a volunteer or even a new project manager, email either of them directly at or A volunteer sign-up form can also be found here.

Click here to learn more about the benefits of the VA garden on employment, social well-being, and psychological health.


Patience Olsen is an undergraduate student at UCLA majoring in Civil Engineering. In addition to blogging for the EatWell Pod, she volunteers at the Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden on campus, and is a member of the ASCE Environmental Design project.