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Santa Cruz, CA: Great Community Garden Project for Santa Cruz

  • Subject: [cg] Santa Cruz, CA: Great Community Garden Project for Santa Cruz
  • From: adam36055@aol.com
  • Date: Wed, 30 Aug 2006 18:54:58 -0400

 A garden in Freedom Grows thousands of pounds of veggies for the hungry

By Emily Saarman
Sentinel Correspondent
FREEDOM b Volunteers from Second Harvest Food Bank in Watsonville harvested
almost 900 pounds of crisp cucumbers, glossy chili peppers, squash and corn
from a local garden Saturday.
The garden belongs to Carol and Barry Wallace of Freedom. Inspired by the
nationwide "Plant a Row" campaign, which encourages gardeners to plant a row
for the hungry, the Wallaces began donating produce from their garden in
1999.
"I was upset by the statistics of how many hungry people there are in the
county so I decided to plant a garden for them," said Carol Wallace, who works
as a deputy fire marshal in Aptos.
The Wallaces soon found that their busy work schedules made it difficult to
cultivate the land so they turned the garden over to volunteers from the food
bank three years ago.
Over the years, the Wallaces and the food bank have figured out what grows
best on the rich land surrounded by apple orchards. Summer and winter squash
are especially prolific, as are corn and cucumbers.
"I think it's important for food to be interesting so we grow things that are
fun and enjoyable, not just the basic nutrition," Carol said. "Squash plants
produce lots of food very quickly."
Considering the 2.2 million pounds of produce the food bank distributes to
43,000 hungry people Santa Cruz and San Benito counties each year, the 3,000
pounds that comes out of the Wallace's garden is a mere drop in the bucket.
But Lee Mercer, the food bank's outreach director, says it's an important
piece of the puzzle.
"We try to grow culturally appropriate food that we don't often recieve as
donations," Mercer said.
Tomatillos, tomatoes and chili peppers, which grow readily in the garden, make
a special treat for the hungry.
Mercer sees every day in the garden as an opportunity to educate volunteers
about nutrition and get people excited about fresh fruits and vegetables. Many
of his volunteers are recipients of the food bank's bounty.
Saturday, the volunteers were mostly high school girls putting in community
service hours for their school. In return for their pains they received a
cookbook called "Fast Meals and Quick Snacks: a Cookbook for Teens".
"Just as often we'll have middle-aged men and women who have worked in the
fields or gardened back in Mexico," Mercer said. "We often learn as much from
them as they learn from us."
Mercer said a volunteer taught him that purslane, a common garden weed, was
good to eat and helped him save sickly peppers with a little extra water.
During the past few years, the volume of produce harvested from the garden has
been slowly increasing. Last year volunteers pulled 3,500 pounds of food from
the garden and Mercer said this year is looking even better.
All the plants are grown organically and many of them are donated by local
nurseries or sprouted in the Wallace's greenhouse from seeds harvested the
previous year.
The Wallaces till the land once a year, maintain the irrigation system and
spend about $5 per month on water. In return, they enjoy a burgeoning garden
and a strong connection to the community.
The Food bank's organizational effort is funded by a grant from the California
Nutrition Network, a program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food Stamp
Nutrition Education program. The grant also helps the food bank distribute
seedlings and seeds to help hungry people grow a garden of their own.
"Where we'd love to go from here is a community garden where people could grow
their own food," Mercer said. "The city of Watsonville has a plot of land but
unfortunately we don't have staffing or funding for the project right now."
Contact Emily Saarman at esaarman@santacruzsentinel.com.
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