Sacramento, CA: New Southside Community Garden
- Subject: [cg] Sacramento, CA: New Southside Community Garden
- From: Adam36055@aol.com
- Date: Mon, 7 Jun 2004 08:35:33 EDT
Community garden puts down roots
There's already a waiting list for plots in Southside.
By M.S. Enkoji -- Bee Staff Writer
Published 2:15 am PDT Monday, June 7, 2004
George Lopes had no reason to part the curtain that hid a weedy, trash-strewn lot next door to his two-story, highwater bungalow.
Cornstalks shoot up, beanstalks climb, tomatoes redden in neat patches in the once forlorn field, and earnest, industrious gardeners labor daily on their ripening real estate.
It's a sight Lopes can't miss.
"We just pull the curtain back and watch them work," said Lopes, an 84-year-old retired rancher.
Sunday afternoon - a gardener's afternoon - while Lopes polished his Chevrolet pickup in his driveway, Southside Community Garden was officially dedicated, becoming a historical part of Sacramento, welcomed with a lot of joy, a touch of pain and the promise of renewal.
The garden at Fifth and W streets with about three-quarters of an acre is the city's first permanent community garden, typically a collection of plots parceled out through modest rent for gardening. Born from an effort to revitalize decaying urban centers and stimulate community cohesiveness, the community garden concept gained momentum in the country's biggest cities in the 1970s.
About that time, Sacramento gardeners joined the movement, starting a shared garden on leased state property in the 1500 block of Q Street.
Always temporary in concept, Ron Mandella Community Garden endured for 30 years as an eclectic, verdant island among homes and small offices. But in the last several years, as trendy housing sprouted close to the sunflowers and watermelons, state landlords were adding up the numbers: the $1 month-to-month lease paid by the nonprofit community garden vs. land value approaching $1 million. It was time for the bulldozers.
Gardeners cited noble principles for the status quo. They got arrested during protests, went on hunger strikes and went to court to save their garden. But the property manager, the Capitol Area Development Authority (CADA), finally padlocked the property in November 2002 in preparation for building residences.
Mandella gardeners couldn't be reached Sunday for comment.
Not a single vestige of what was once the Mandella garden remained behind the wrought-iron border Sunday, not a single snap bean or zucchini pushed its way into the afternoon sun, just weeds and dirt.
And few, if any, of the gardeners who fought to save the Mandella garden came to wish the new garden well Sunday, and none signed up for one of the plots, a gesture not lost on some.
A denim-clad Sacramento Mayor Heather Fargo, who said she left her own garden to join the dedication, acknowledged the rift and encouraged the Mandella gardeners to join the new garden.
"It's part of the healing process," she said.
A lesson learned is the importance of permanently designating a garden spot, which will mean fruit trees without fear of extinction, Fargo noted.
Tough decisions revolving around the desire for open space vs. the demand for urban-scale development seldom makes everyone happy, said John Dangberg, executive director of CADA.
"Gardens can't economically compete with development," Dangberg said.
Dangberg, whose agency manages state-owned property in the downtown area, said the fight over the Mandella garden proved a career challenge.
His agency financed an olive branch, spending $600,000 to buy the new garden site near Southside Park, clear weeds and trash, and clean toxics from the ground and landscape it, he said. Sacramento's Department of Parks and Recreation will manage the park and pay the water bills.
Also, when the homes are built at the Mandella site, which should start soon, Dangberg said, part of that property will be reserved for a community garden again.
The former Mandella gardeners are also invited to sign up for those plots, he said.
The scent of wood chips and damp earth hung heavily over the 40 new plots, where gardeners began working the ground in February. After speeches and entertainment, gardeners watered or just stood and admired.
Florentino Castellon, 58, showed off his prolific plot wild with green. He rented a site for his daughter as a Christmas present next to his own plot.
Alicia Barrios, 29, walks the few blocks from her house with her 21-month-old daughter three times a week, she said.
She's made pesto from her basil and helped her daughter start her own garden, with a miniature park bench and gardening tools.
"It's a safe area for her to run around," Barrios said.
Bill Maynard, the unofficial manager of the garden and founder of the Sacramento Area Community Garden Coalition, has his own dense plot.
"I think we're on a new chapter," he said, surveying the plots.
The Southside garden is full and a waiting list is growing, he said. Other community gardens, though, are set to open.
Lopes, the retired rancher next door, is just glad for this one.
"They're doing a nice job," he said. "It's going to be beautiful."
To inquire about a plot or other community gardens, call (916) 508-6025.
About the Writer
The Bee's M.S. Enkoji can be reached at (916) 321-1106 or firstname.lastname@example.org.