SSU students donate time to Food Forest
Classes situate freshmen to new environment and help Cotati park
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By Natalie Gray  September 20, 2013 12:00 am

Sonoma State University holds a unique merger of two classes, University 102 and English 100 A, and 20 students from those classes on Sept. 8 volunteered their time and efforts to help maintain and preserve Cotati’s Food Forest at Pocket Park.

University 102 is designed to welcome incoming freshmen to college life and to situate them comfortably into their new university home. English 100 A teaches first-year composition.

The courses are instructed by the same professor, Christy Palella, and are taught twice a week, back-to-back from each other, with the same students in each class. The idea is to have the materials learned from each class feed into each other; students read and write about a range of issues and concerns, such as hunger, environmental preservation and water shortage. And then the university course allows students to have meaningful experiences related to those issues.  


Benefits of service

“Every time I do a project like this, I am reminded how beneficial for the students doing community service is,” said Palella in a telephone interview. “Some topics (we cover in class) get really heavy, so it’s really nice to be reminded that at a local level, they can make a difference.”

In the past, Palella’s class has worked with Cotati Creek Critters, an organization that worked to preserve Copeland Creek. The project recently disbanded, leaving Palella to find a new organization and project if she wanted to continue with her annual class community service. She was recommended to Daily Acts by a Creek Critters’ official. Daily Acts is a Petaluma-based organization with the mission of transforming communities to be healthier, greener, helping and more loving self-reliant environments through acts of community services.

It was through Daily Acts that Cotati’s Food Forest and Pocket Park were created. The location, found at the corner of LaSalle and Loretto avenues, used to be nothing but a patch of turf, doing little for its surrounding community than sucking up water.

Along with the Cotati community, Daily Acts helped transform the location into a food and medicine garden, complete with berry bushes, fig trees and a variety of different herbs. Since 2009, the change has reduced the use of water by an estimated 60,000 gallons per year, as well as eliminated the use of pesticides and herbicides.


‘Conserving quality of life’

“It’s about conserving the quality of life,” said Daily Acts representative, Ryan Johnson in a phone interview. “It is about (finding) what really matters in life and of course really connecting with the community.” 

Palella’s class, currently learning about water and the shortage and conservation thereof, took to the Food Forest bright and early at 9 a.m. on Sunday morning. There, they were met with Daily Acts worker Angelo Silva, who showed the students how to properly prune the plants and how to lay mulch, as well as sharing the benefits of self-sustaining gardening and environmentally friendly gardening techniques.

“A family actually came by when we were working,” said Palella, “a father and his two children and they started working with us. I thought it was really great for students to see the community coming by.” 

Palella said she hopes to again work with Daily Acts in the future and plans to have her students work next on a farm. The Food Forest at Pocket Park is always open to the public to come pick food and herbs at their convenience and to experience community collaboration at its freshest. 

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