Starting college on Zoom due to a pandemic is hardly the dream Diana Castellanos ’24 had envisioned, but she did not let that dissuade her. By establishing Grow Getters, the first-year student is getting Pomona College students off screen and in the soil—and they aren’t just growing gardens, they are also cultivating community.
Castellanos, who is considering majoring in biology and minoring in Spanish, applied to be a Pomona EcoRep last fall semester (EcoReps serve as a student-run sustainability hub and promote sustainable practices at The Claremont Colleges). In her letter of interest, she proposed the idea of sending students tomato and basil seeds which they could plant during the pandemic. Pomona’s Sustainability Office ordered seeds and Grow Getter stickers, intro notes were written, and then everything was sent to Castellanos’ house, where she made little packets for everyone and mailed them out. More than 60 students make up Grow Getters.
Alexis Reyes, assistant director of the College’s Sustainability Office, says Grow Getters “is a gateway to supporting local agriculture and cooking plant-based meals.”
It’s also a fight to endure. In a season of loss around the world, this was an opportunity to nurture life at home. It was also a chance for Castellanos to share her love of gardening.
“I spent a lot of time with my grandparents when I was younger, and they have a fruit and vegetable garden in their backyard. So, my sisters and I would spend our summers picking squash and getting flowers and all of that. So, I find it very therapeutic and calming,” she says.
And if ever there was a time for therapeutic and calming, the time is now. Castellanos lives in Los Angeles, where the pandemic hit hard and leaving the house was a rare occasion. It is easy to stay in her room with her laptop all day, she says. Knowing that she has plants to water and sprouts to inspect gets her out of her room and outdoors. While the world felt stagnant, gardening felt like progression.
“I think especially during Zoom, it's good to go outside and get your hands on something. And you literally get to eat the fruits of your labor, which is very exciting. So that was my inspiration. I just wanted other people to feel what I feel when I'm gardening.”
The fruits of that labor are something you can have and hold, she says. You get tomatoes and basil and then you get to make a dish out of it. If you’re thinking caprese salad and marinara sauce and then some, so was Castellanos. She chose those seeds because lots of recipes have tomato and basil, she says.
Tomatoes and basil aren’t all that’s growing—there’s a harvest of another kind: community. Students are getting to know each other across the 5Cs. They share selfies and pictures of their sprouting plants, and in their bimonthly Zoom meetings they do icebreakers and have a little show and tell. But it’s not all just plant talk. Other topics of conversation arise. These are vital connections; everyone is new to Castellanos and other first-year students. On top of that, Grow Getters aligns with Pomona’s value of community, she says.
Another perennial Pomona value Grow Getters upholds is creativity, Castellanos says, by thinking outside the computer. Upon students’ return to campus, the hope is to collaborate with the College’s Organic Farm and even bring the gardens to the residence halls.
“The plants that we chose are dwarf plants, so they're growable in a dorm. I don't know how many kids would want to grow tomatoes in their dorm, but if they did, we could definitely help them out with that,” she says.
Castellanos hopes that people realize gardening is easier than they think, and it doesn’t require a 12x12 patch of dirt in a backyard.
“You can have a little pot in your kitchen, and that's something. It counts.”
As of early March, the tomatoes are starting to grow true leaves (leaves after the initial seedling leaves) and the basil has also sprouted and is growing, Castellanos reports.
Castellanos acknowledges that even with the proper care and feeding of one’s plant babies, they can die, and you’re left saddened and wondering what happened.“Plant another seed. The next one will hopefully go better than the last one, so just keep going with it.”