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July 16, 2014

Growing Gardens, One Yard At a Time

Everyone loves a vegetable garden. A patio full of pots overflowing with sweet cherry tomatoes and bright herbs or a patch of cleared grass crowded with squash and watermelons. A garden can come in every shape and size and it’s wonderful to see the ingenuity and resourcefulness of people who love their vegetables. 

Unfortunately for some, starting a garden is cost, time, or physically prohibitive. This is a sentiment shared commonly at our free gardening classes in the Demonstration Garden at Sacramento Food Bank and Family Services (SFBFS). Many of our dedicated garden clients have a plan for ramping up their vegetable production but are often limited to their patio containers or smaller plans.

Sensing this need for resources in our community, the Food program applied for and received a grant to begin building gardens for some of our clients. This new facet of the program closely aligns with our mission to foster economic independence and self-sufficiency in those we serve. We want people to expand their gardening capabilities and share the abundance of food, excitement, and gardening know-how with their community. To be eligible, a client must attend and complete the Introduction to Gardening Series, which is four consecutive weekly classes about planning and maintaining your garden. Since beginning this program in April, we have had a slow trickle of qualified  applications turned in. We've completed two garden builds so far! The projects were very different but highlight the different resource needs in our communities.

Our first build was for dedicated gardener Minnie, who desired a raised container bed because of physical problems leaving her unable to bend down to the ground. She already had a dazzling assortment of vegetables on her patio but a small lawn with enormous potential was empty. Greg and I, along with two trusty client volunteers (one being the recipient of our next build) constructed a garden bed about 3 ½ feet tall and filled it with soil, compost and a variety of veggies and herbs. It turned out fantastic and Minnie was very happy. She could harvest and care for everything at a comfortable level. I came back later to set up a drip irrigation system and a basic compost bin to make her garden tending duties even easier. Build 1 – a success!

The second build was at the residence of Joseph and Jeannie, who were inspired by some of our gardening classes to embark on a very large project.  By the time they turned in their application, Joseph had already broke ground on an 800 sq ft. garden and planted about a third of it. Our goal was to put the other two-thirds into production: amend the soil with compost, plant with vegetables and flowers, set up irrigation, and build a large compost bin. Joseph, Greg, four volunteers and myself got busy with our tasks and finished before noon! It was a merry affair and the result of our build was at least 500 more square feet of vegetable production. Joseph and Jeannie were very thankful for all the help and resources, just as we are thankful that they've turned their lawn into a huge garden!

With two builds under our belt, we are ready to take on the next challenge. The next property has three parcels and is partially developed for gardening already but we hope to expand it and make it a veritable urban farm! Stay posted!

Submitted by Kate Wilkins, Garden, Health and Nutrition AmeriCorps VISTA at Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services.

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