Chico Garden Share
Facebook brings new life to Chico’s gardening community
In late August, novice gardener Rosie Wiklund opened the lid to the small compost bin in her downtown Chico back yard and got grossed out.
“There was a cloud of flies, like you might imagine in a comic book,” said Wiklund, “and upon further inspection, it was really moving and crawling and grooving. It was pretty alarming.”
Wiklund hopped on her computer and posted to Chico Garden Share Project, a forum for local Chico gardeners on Facebook. She wrote: “Things seem to be breaking down, but I’m repulsed. Your thoughts, please?”
“I thought maybe if I was lucky, I’d get one or two responses,” Wiklund said. Within a few days, Wiklund’s post brought in 19 responses. Among the many suggestions were to amend the pile with “brown matter” such as hay, to encourage chickens to go after the bugs, and to add wood ashes, charcoal and biochar, a carbon-sequestering charcoal created from the oxygen-free decomposition of biomass at elevated temperatures.
“All the fixes were easy and affordable,” she said. “In fact, the thing that ended up working really well was just taking [the compost] out of the box. It needed to breathe more.”
Wiklund stumbled upon the group while perusing Facebook, without knowing anyone in the group. Now, she finds herself part of a rapidly growing Chico gardening community. “I’m seeing Chico Garden Share members all over town,” she said.
Last week, Wiklund even hosted a Chico Garden Share-sponsored workshop on sheet-mulching, a permaculture practice for building layered garden beds with cardboard and hay, and Bokashi, a probiotic composting method. She welcomed complete strangers into her back yard for the workshop—people she only knew by name from Facebook.
Chico Garden Share (CGS) is the creation of Julie Butler. Butler has sustainable farming in her bones: Her grandfather, once a Durham chicken farmer, switched over at the age of 82 to worm farming, to create the worm castings highly favored by gardeners for use as a high-quality, all-natural fertilizer. Butler works part-time at the Durham Worm Farm, but much of her time is dedicated to Facebooking as a “person” named Chico Garden Share (see www.facebook.com/chico.garden.share).
“I would say, if I get on Facebook, I’m not getting off for two hours,” Butler said. “I could go 8, 10, 12 hours. But I think an average would be four hours a day.” During this time, she sifts through pages of posts on sustainable gardening, environmental news, food activism and permaculture. She chooses the most relevant items and reposts them to her wall. Currently, 1,968 people have “friended” her. Butler estimates that 900 of those friends are from the Chico area. The rest are gardeners, activists and foodies from around the world.
Of those 900 Chicoans, 416 have opted to join the Facebook group called Chico Garden Share Project, a forum where anyone subscribed can post questions about their gardens (like Wiklund did), announce local garden-related events, or give away excess produce.
Butler began the CGS page last December, and started the Project group page soon after. Through Facebook, Butler met Leslie Wilson Corsbie of Performance Design & Landscape, a permaculture-influenced landscaping company in Chico. Corsbie quickly became a partner in CGS, helping to organize and promote events, such as several sheet-mulching workshops. Corsbie recognized early on the potential for a Facebook gardening group.
“The best part about Facebook is that there is so much information and you can put it out there to so many people,” she said. Butler agrees, saying participants can “see what’s going on in the community in a really up-to-the-moment way.” Both believe the Facebook page and project are doing more than just sharing information. “People actually get to meet each other and create community” outside of Facebook, Butler said.
“No matter what we’re trying to accomplish, it’s about community. I love to meet my neighbors,” Corsbie said.
Beyond sharing information and building community, CGS is also a forum for political change. In August, locals Abigail Bruner and Eric Chisler began a new group with encouragement from CGS—the Chico Gleaning Team. Using CGS to promote their efforts and recruit like-minded food activists, Bruner and Chisler created their own Facebook group for the Gleaning Team (www.facebook.com/groups/ChicoGleaningTeam) and began hosting regular meetings, which were promoted on CGS.
In September, the Gleaning Team decided to ask the Bidwell Park and Playground Commission at its regular meeting to consider a policy to encourage the planting of fruit and nut trees on city property. Butler and others promoted the event on CGS.
Members of the Chico Gleaning Team and CGS spoke at the meeting. Also in attendance were members of the local GRUB Cooperative, who have mapped and gleaned from fruit trees for years; Mark Stemen, Chico State professor of environmental studies and sustainability; and several other supporters who had heard about the event on Facebook. Park commissioners, in response, asked those attending the meeting to provide a venue for commissioners to learn more and to explore the larger issue of urban farming in Chico. Attendees largely considered the response a success, and the Gleaning Team now has a political focus beyond just picking fruit. The group is now organizing meetings through its Facebook page to discuss next steps.
Butler is thrilled that CGS can provide such a venue for Chicoans. Its next project is to teach people to compost their own leaves. Butler and Corsbie also have been meeting with other sustainability-focused Chicoans about rebuilding the Transition Chico movement—bringing the community-building and information-sharing that CGS already does to promote other sustainable endeavors such as bicycling, green building, and clean energy. CGS plans to act as a promotional arm of the new movement.
“It really comes down to everybody using their voice and seeking to educate themselves,” Butler said, “and becoming involved to create the world we want to live in.”