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California: Community garden faces last season after schooldistrict sells land

  • Subject: [cg] California: Community garden faces last season after schooldistrict sells land
  • From: Don Boekelheide dboekelheide@yahoo.com
  • Date: Fri, 18 Aug 2006 19:09:18 -0700 (PDT)

Press-Democrat, Santa Rosa California
August 18, 2006

Garden's final harvest
Houses likely to take place of plants as school
district prepares to sell community plot

(ROHNERT PARK, CALIFORNIA) Head-high stalks of corn
wave in the soft summer sun on Jose Bernal's carefully
tilled plot in the Rohnert Park community garden.

Come next month, the 71-year-old retiree will pick the
crop for a tamale feast he'll share with some of the
two dozen others working the fertile soil.

But it will be a kind of last supper from the garden,
which has occupied the two acres on Keiser Road since
the mid-1980s.

The property owner - the city school district - is
selling the land for housing development and the
garden must close after this season's harvest.

"I'm not happy," said Bernal as he walked among lush
tomato plants and watermelon vines in the garden
behind Creekside Middle School. "But I knew sooner or
later, this day would come."

Officials with the Cotati-Rohnert Park Unified School
District said the land is part of a 30-acre piece that
was deemed surplus earlier this year.

With shrinking enrollment and no need for more
schools, the district listed the property for sale. It
was appraised at up to $500,000 an acre, and the
district has received interest from two charities that
build low-income homes, Superintendent Michael
Watenpaugh said.

A sale would raise money for upgrades at Rancho Cotate
High School and other campuses, Watenpaugh said.

"We're looking at putting in a new gymnasium and
performing arts facility and reconfiguring the
athletic field," he said.

Although the garden is outside the city limits, it has
been run by the city's recreation department, which
offers small plots with water and mulch for $25 a year
to residents and $32 a year to nonresidents.

Guy Miller, a recreation services manager, said
officials are looking for another garden site, likely
on city-owned land.

But so far one hasn't been found. Large acreage is
rare, and the city might have to decommission a
little-used park or divide the garden into more than
one location, Miller said.

"We have to get creative," he said.

The Keiser Road garden was created after a previous
garden site was displaced by apartment construction.

Now, the community garden is a haven, mostly for
apartment dwellers like Bart Davis who don't have yard
space to grow their own vegetables.

Davis said this year he tended a patch of watermelons,
beans, cucumbers, peppers and tomatoes for himself
while working crops on a larger plot that will be
donated to a food bank.

A lot of people are saddened, he said, to have to
scrap the garden for more houses.

"It sure would be sweet if they could find another
piece of land," Davis said.

Paula Granskog and her sister Karon Merritt agreed.
They grew a bounty of green beans and cucumbers for
the first time this year.

"First and apparently the last," Granskog said as she
picked beans with her 13-year-old son Andrew.

When her vegetables nearly died earlier in the year,
more seasoned gardeners came to her aid.

"It's like a family out here," she said. "It's going
to be sad when it closes."

The American Community Gardening Association listserve is only one of ACGA's services to community gardeners. To learn more about the ACGA and to find out how to join, please go to http://www.communitygarden.org

To post an e-mail to the list:  community_garden@mallorn.com

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