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Chris Johnson


You were instrumental in creating the gardens at Eleanor Roosevelt College, now known as Ellie’s Victory Garden, Backyard and Farm. What was the motivation to build these gardens, and what have you learned from this process?

When I started working at Eleanor Roosevelt College (ERC) Housing six years ago, there were four bare courtyards except for a few eucalyptus trees—some stunted by disease. I thought that this would be an excellent place for a student garden as it is flat, weed-free, has water, and is next to the dorms. The Resident Dean, Rey Guerrero, liked the idea, and I happened to meet a student, Hanah Yendler, who aspired to create a student garden. We agreed to work together: she handled the organizational part and I handled the physical part. The original idea was successful. This became Ellie’s Garden, and the students did such a great job that it was followed by Ellie’s Farm and Ellie’s Backyard. These plots were easier to create due to our success. If you have a good idea and find the right people to work with, you can realize your goals.

You were awarded one of UC San Diego's Exemplary Staff Employees of 2015-16, 2016 Outstanding Staff in Sustainability from UC San Diego Sustainability, and 2015-16 Staff Employee of the Year from the Staff Sustainability Network! What inspires you each day to go above and beyond to make UC San Diego more sustainable?

Much of my work at UC San Diego has revolved around trash, litter and general clean up. Whether it was in the University Center area or ERC, I have tried to demonstrate how simple it is to recycle and clean up after yourself and others. It may not seem easy, but it is always simple. It really is easy to act in a sustainable manner, but many people don’t know how or were never shown how to do this. UC San Diego is making it easier to be sustainable.

Tell us about your proposal to establish one here at UC San Diego.

Along with two coworkers, Mike Scarry and Andre Leon, I’ve been engaging people in campus in thinking about creating an arboretum at UC San Diego. This started as an idea to supply Landscape Services with items that were too difficult to get, like plants, mulch and compost, and evolved into an effort to offer these to the entire campus. The theme of the arboretum would be sustainability, including dedicatation to the landscape and outdoor environment, and would focus on four main areas: a composting center, food forest, plant nursery, and recreation facilities that use no power or water. Also, this arboretum could help address the university’s goals of carbon neutrality by 2025 and zero waste by 2020, food insecurity, community engagement, and other environmental concerns. This movement is growing with staff, student, faculty and administrative support.