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Residents want a true community garden in Mountain View

In Mountain View, the words "community garden" have been used to describe the tiny city garden plots near Willowgate Street available for a fee to individuals on a waiting list. The experience of a true community garden -- where anyone can share in and learn the experience of growing food -- would be new to Mountain View. But there's a group of residents aiming to change that.

"It's more fun to eat food together than to eat alone and it's more fun to grow food together than to grow it alone," said resident Kavita Dave Coombe, a public health expert who is helping to lead an effort which so far has 27 interested residents discussing the idea online.

The group has already made a pitch for what's called a "community garden" or a "demonstration farm" to the city's parks and recreation department, a pitch which was "looked at very favorably," Coombe said. In September the idea was included by city officials in a list of possible uses for a new park on a lush 1.2 acre site at 771 North Rengstorff Avenue known as the Stieper property.

"There are so many people with different skills and expertise who are so gung-ho about getting this going," said Aditi Mogre, a project manager who met Coombe and several other members in a meet-up group for mothers. "It brings a sense of community. When you grow something together you are more invested" in your community.

The group envisions an operation similar to Full Circle Farms in Sunnyvale, or Veggielution in San Jose, and the numerous small community gardens in cities like San Francisco and Brooklyn which aim to produce food on public land for the community while teaching skills to anyone who wants to be involved.

The purpose of such a garden is to "demonstrate the full circle of things, growing food, harvesting food and putting food back into the earth," Coombe said. "It's really a way to demonstrate ways to grow a garden not using a lot of water, while recycling materials and using compost."

Classes could be taught by beekeepers, arborists and gardeners, Coombe said.

"Going to Full Circle Farms is a lot of fun, my daughter will run around and she sees chickens, she sees all sorts of vegetables growing," Coombe said. "She can identify, at 3-years-old, what is ripe and what isn't. That's a big deal. We go to the farmer's market and she says, 'I want those strawberries, those strawberries look good, they look ripe.'"

A focus on teaching children about gardening is of particular interest to the group. Childhood obesity and diabetes rates could be reduced with the right sort of education about food, Coombe says. "If those lessons occur early in life it can only benefit."

Group member Karen D'souza, who works as a quality assurance engineer, said she has a daughter who is 3-years-old -- that age where kids are "into getting their hands dirty." Part of D'souza's interest in a public garden is that she lives in an apartment, like much of the city's population.

Communal versus individual

The city's "Willowgate Community Garden" is really 84 small plots for individuals, which "are great but they are off limits to the community at large," Coombe said. "There's a huge waiting list."

City officials say gardeners should expect to wait four to five years for a plot, and the cost is $135 a year.

The nature of things at Willowgate was highlighted by a blow-up in 2008 when gardeners told city staff in a public meeting that they felt threatened by the city's attempts to enforce rules about the appearance of the plots, saying they felt the city would take their plots away if they were not "84 model gardeners."

"It reminds me of our years back in the Soviet Union," Russian immigrant Luba Kaplun has said to the Voice. "We are free people (in America), and we really expected to be treated with respect."

The gardeners and city staff seemed to come to terms in the end, with some gardeners calling for regular meetings because ,"We need a place to put this stuff; otherwise it's just individuals being angry," one gardener said.

Fear about losing garden space -- or complaints about not enough interactions with fellow gardeners -- would seem quite unusual in the sort of community garden now proposed.

"It's one garden space," Coombe said. "It allows a way to bring the community together, brings families together and people of all ages together."

Exactly where such a garden would go is unclear. At the Stieper property, much of the land is shaded by fruit trees.

"With a demonstration garden, you don't need a lot of space," Coombe said. "That's what's really cool about them -- you can demonstrate the fact you don't need a lot of space to grow things."

The group has also looked at using one of two small vacant city lots on Shoreline Boulevard near downtown. A downtown site would be ideal, as it would be more "walkable" -- something the city's residents seem to value more and more, Coombe said.

If the city needs more than one such garden, "there's a lot of underutilized park spaces that are beautiful, a few trees and benches but there's not really anything there," Coombe said. "Gardens would make a lot of sense in those spaces."

The group still has many hoops to jump through and funding to obtain, perhaps from the city or a sponsor. The group may form as non-profit, like Full Circle Farms in Sunnyvale.

For more information, visit Facebook.com/MountainViewUrbanGarden

Comments

Posted by patrick, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Oct 22, 2013 at 1:41 pm

Why not use the space on Shoreline Blvd between El Camino and California?

There are at least three large areas there that would bring gardens into the heart of downtown and would save that area from stack and pack apartments such as those along El Camino and San Antonio. The City already owns these lands and should give them back to the public.

Lets save our inner city from further crowded development and do some good for regular folk instead of always giving it away to greedy developers.


Posted by Erin, a resident of Monta Loma
on Oct 22, 2013 at 2:07 pm

I LOVE this idea. Our city could really benefit from something like this.


Posted by Gardener, a resident of Rengstorff Park
on Oct 22, 2013 at 2:10 pm

The waiting list for individual community garden plots is years long and the city should also open another community garden besides Willowgate for people to grow their own healthy fruits and vegtables.


Posted by George, a resident of Rex Manor
on Oct 22, 2013 at 2:26 pm

Why do I hear the flutes and music of the Berkeley Days..
With a waiting list, where do the Newbies line up? Does the City of MtnView really charge a fee to just be on the list ? Is there no level of taxation they don't like ?
Open it up and watch the non-gardeners move in when all is ripe...
Oh well.. I'll be money ahead and labor reduced with good stuff from Safeway..


Posted by Bob, a resident of Slater
on Oct 22, 2013 at 2:35 pm

What a great idea for Cuesta Annex! Large, fertile and unspoiled acreage, just going to waste. A perfect location for a community garden. This area was proposed for such a use several years ago, and if the NIMBY's don't get in the way, it can happen!!


Posted by reader, a resident of Waverly Park
on Oct 22, 2013 at 2:39 pm

Take a look at www.sharingbackyards.com

Anyone interested? I have some extra dirt to share.


Posted by Otto Maddox, a resident of Monta Loma
on Oct 22, 2013 at 2:42 pm

Bad idea.. those community gardens take up too much space. I want someplace open to everyone.

But if we're giving out plots.. I'll take one to park an RV on it.


Posted by ME, a resident of North Whisman
on Oct 22, 2013 at 11:20 pm

I live in a small complex of 28 townhouses and condos and campaigned our HOA board of directors for permission to remove a 30' x 8' patch of ivy to convert to a 'community garden.' Several neighbors joined me in planting tomatoes, lettuce, beets, chard, cucumbers, rhubarb, arugula, strawberries etc. It's surprising how much food you can grow in a small plot of land. I suggest others who live in HOA communities identify land suitable for a community garden in their common areas, get the boards's blessing, and start planting!


Posted by Jay Park, a resident of Jackson Park
on Oct 24, 2013 at 8:39 pm

@George:

The only fee associated with the Willowgate Community Garden are modest water usage fees. There's no charge to be on the waiting list (currently 4-5 years). I've been waiting for a plot myself for a couple of years, haven't paid a dime.

Sorry, but your outrage misses the mark.


Posted by Neighbor, a resident of Shoreline West
on Oct 26, 2013 at 7:29 am

The term "Community Garden" is a feel good term, but in actuality, speaking from witnessing several of these in different towns over the years, its quite different. What you get is a large area used by very few(per lottery/waiting lists) and those few people become VERY particular about who comes in and such. You end up with a garden clique of 10 or 20 people and the rest of the community is viewed as outsiders and get treated like they don't have the same rights to be there as the 10 "community" farmers.

Its a neat idea, but it will benefit very few. A better way to get more people gardening is to instruct how to grow veggies in planter boxes. No use of city land needed and its just as productive on the individual scale.
MORE people will garden IMO if they do that than if they let only 20 people farm a big plot of city land. The taxes alone on that land could provide garden boxes to allow more people to farm than a community farm would.


Posted by gardener, a resident of Rex Manor
on Oct 26, 2013 at 10:04 am

I have a plot at Willowgate. It's been a source of food and great pleasure for me. Many gardeners contribute excess veggies to the local food bank. The yearly fee is pretty low (even after a price hike a few years ago) when one considers the price for water in this area. I don't find the garden is a clique with a few members, as "neighbor" claims. It would be wonderful to have more community gardens in the city. But when one was proposed for the Rex Manor area many people were vehemently opposed to it and it was not approved by the City Council. I found this strong opposition quite strange. All in all the city provides a great service with Willowgate and we are grateful.


Posted by Gardener #2, a resident of Rengstorff Park
on Oct 27, 2013 at 11:07 am

I am also a gardener at Willowgate and I agree with the other gardener about the benefits of having a small plot. In addition to donating to the food bank I also feed a lot of people in my HOA and they really love getting fresh produce. I don't find there are any cliques what so ever, in fact its quite the opposite, everyone is very friendly and helpful. There are many neighbors around Willowgate who don't have plots who frequently stop by and walk around and enjoy having a garden in their area. I have also given them some of my produce. My only complaint is that the City should charge even more to cover the cost of the water. We already have a wonderful piece of land for free and we should not be subsidized for the water.


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