Garden infusion

Community plot goes green thanks to a stormwater diversion grant

Felisa Trujillo works in the community garden at Murphy Commons Apartments.

Felisa Trujillo works in the community garden at Murphy Commons Apartments.

Photo by Mason Masis

When Felisa Trujillo moved into Chico’s Murphy Commons Apartments three years ago with her sister and their parents, she found more than a home. The community garden run by fellow residents beckoned, and it revealed to her something she did not know she had: a green thumb.

Trujillo has worked in the garden ever since, and for her dedication was recently named resident manager, charged with overseeing its care. So, when she learned that a new grant through the city of Chico would make watering the garden easier—and more sustainable—she was understandably excited.

The city chose Murphy Commons, an 86-unit apartment complex run by the Community Housing Improvement Project (CHIP), as one of six locations to benefit from a stormwater grant program through the State Water Resources Control Board. This summer, Franklin Construction has been busy installing a 2,825-gallon water storage tank and solar-powered pumps that will divert stormwater into the garden. Additionally, gutters on eight apartment units were diverted toward the front of the building to help water newly planted drought-friendly yards.

Steven Karnowski, the complex’s property manager, said he hopes that all the buildings in the complex will be similarly outfitted.

The city and CHIP have a long-term lease agreement for the garden, which is on city property, said Linda Herman, administration manager of the Public Works Department. It was this relationship that led the city to choose Murphy Commons as a grant recipient. The other projects funded by the grant include delawning and bioswale initiatives at city hall; the Chico Amtrak station; a Habitat for Humanity plot at the corner of 16th and D streets; and Chico Fire Station No. 1.

The stormwater diversion system is just the newest sustainable addition to Murphy Commons, Karnowski said. Exterior lights for the complex and hot water for the main office are powered by solar panels, which are installed throughout the property. And the original recycled paint is green, both literally and in the environmental sense.

In 2011, the city granted CHIP a lease on a large plot of land next to Murphy Commons to start the community garden. Since its inception, the garden has inspired others around town. The garden is entirely run by the residents, a point Karnowski made multiple times both as a sense of pride and to explain its somewhat wild appearance.

In the garden, residents grow for free whatever they want. Some of the plots are specialized, with long rows of corn and other tall plants shooting from the earth. Others are a hodgepodge of herbs, veggies and fruits. During a recent visit, residents pointed out the variety, explaining that seeds are often scattered by animals or the wind across the entire garden and, as such, they’re sometimes surprised by what grows.

Before moving to Murphy Commons, Trujillo said she had never gardened, but she and her father, Oscar Trujillo, are now hooked. A vegetarian, she said it was nice to be able to grow her own food, even if she admits she’s a novice relying mostly on luck at this point.

“It’s not like work; it’s just fun,” she said.

She added that there is ample opportunity to learn from fellow residents, some of whom are veteran gardeners, as well as from members of Chico GRUB (Growing Resourcefully Uniting Bellies), which collaborates with Murphy Commons residents on the garden.

Though she’s still learning the ropes, at press time Trujillo’s corn, lettuce and kale were doing well. Her carrots, not so much. Nonetheless, she’s enjoying herself and is grateful to have access to such a great resource.

“It’s amazing. Some places barely have room for a barbeque. We have a garden.”