UCSF Sustainability Stories


Deborah Fleischer & Jennifer Armenta, Green Impact, September 2015


NOMADgardens Community Garden - More Than Just a Garden

Nomad Gardens 1During its first year, NOMADgardens has blossomed into a thriving community garden that could not have begun without the help of its amazing staff and generous donors, including UCSF. NOMADgardens was born to create a ‘roaming’ community garden and event space that transforms vacant lots into vibrant hubs for the local residents. Their current location provides small plots for both the UCSF community and the broader Mission Bay neighborhood to grow their own food, connect with neighbors and learn about sustainable food issues.

We had the opportunity to speak with Stephanie Goodson, Founder and Co-Director of NOMADgardens, about the progress that she and her team have made during the last year. Stephanie said they are thrilled with their membership of 85 gardeners (members) who rent plots and they only need about 20 more members to reach capacity. A recent achievement was the completion of the new NOMADgardens website, which now allows members to sign up for a garden spot online. “We actually just got our first new gardener signed up through it,” Stephanie said. “What started out as a dream has become a reality. It’s amazing to know that people are really using the garden and improving their wellness.” When asked about her staff, “They’re all volunteers,” she said. ” They give their time, their weekends, it’s amazing.” Nomad also gets a large amount of help from donors who support them with grants and resources needed to run the garden.

USCF Makes a Difference

Nomad Gardens 2 carrotUCSF has donated pallets that would have become trash. The pallets, which are used to ship lab equipment and other large shipments to UCSF, became part of the infrastructure for the community garden. The UCSF Mission Bay campus is near the garden lot, making it very accessible to staff, students and faculty. “We have about a dozen gardeners from UCSF who have become members, volunteers and a couple that have even joined the Nomad team,” Stephanie shared.

Brad Heller is the newest NOMADgarden team member and the teams official Grill Master. He was motivated to get barbecues in the garden so it could a place where people would come and spend time, not just garden and leave. Brad spearheaded the effort of bringing BBQs to the garden and now he is in charge of making sure they are up and running for everyone to use.

Another member Richard, is a scientist that works at UCSF and lives in the UCSF housing. He uses the garden extensively for growing food and also uses the area for social events and activities. “He’s one of our best volunteers. He’s always helping us out,” Stephanie shared. 

Adam Schnirel, UCSF Recycling Coordinator, has been working tirelessly to create compost bins for the garden. He is repurposing an old shipping container and turning it into a three-part compost bin station. Gardeners will be able to dispose of their garden waste, allow it to decompose and then reap the benefits of compost for everyone to use. Volunteers can come and help finish the compost project this month at the Garden Volunteer Day.

Upcoming Events

NOMADgardens has wonderful programs open to the public. They have open monthly garden days, volunteer days, and classes and events that anyone can enjoy. Stephanie also explained, “that whenever any of our garden members are there, the gate is always open!” Below is a list of their upcoming events:


  • Volunteer Day - Every third Sunday of the month - 10:00 am - 12:30 pm. The garden is open to the community for the day. They will be setting up the compost stations, painting the interior workshop space, and more. Come by to see what they are growing and learn about their mission to build healthy happy communities. Please bring a picnic, your family and friends - kids are always welcome! For any interested gardeners, plots are still available.

  • Monthly Open Garden - The first Saturday of every month from 10:00 am - 4:00 pm is open to the public. Come and check out the garden, see what has been planted, and enjoy the space.

  • Container Gardening Class - September 20 - 1:00 - 2:00 pm (Every third Sunday of the month.) Learn how to grow food in raised beds or containers. In this class, we’ll discuss wise choices for the limited space and resources available to you in an urban garden. We’ll cover plant choice, soil fertility, watering and maintenance and have plenty of time for questions and discussion. The class will be taught by Debbie, a Master Gardener, one of the two Head Gardeners at NOMADgardens.

Plans for the Future, Lessons Learned


Nomad Gardens 3 tomatoThe NOMADgarden dream is for the garden to be open to the public every day. They have plans to have community dinners, more events and hope the garden will double in size over the next year. They are hoping to expand to about 220 plots and are looking for a sponsor to help subsidize 30 of the plots to offer discounted rates to the affordable housing residences in the area. They are also working on new ways to reach out to the public, including new welcome packets with information about the garden that will be sent to all new people moving into the area.

“I would say the biggest lesson I’ve learned is to really make time for your partners to ensure that relationships are really strong,” Stephanie shared. She is hoping to access UCSF more and is thinking of partnering with UCSF’s Urban Agriculture Program. “I think partnering with the university would be great because we could potentially have an influx of interns that can help us,” she explained. Stephanie hopes that she and her team will continue to improve partner relationships,  increase membership and bring all parts of the community together.