Neighborhood bounty

Chico residents unite to raise a new community garden

COMMUNITY SPACE <br> Jeremy Miller, president of the Chico Food Network, regularly waters and tends to the fruit trees that surround Everybody’s Garden in Chapmantown. Here, he checks on the garden’s ripening grapes.

Jeremy Miller, president of the Chico Food Network, regularly waters and tends to the fruit trees that surround Everybody’s Garden in Chapmantown. Here, he checks on the garden’s ripening grapes.

Photo By Meredith J. Cooper

Growing strong
For more information about Everybody’s Garden, contact CARD at 895-4711. Starting Aug. 14, the Chapman Food & Fitness Festival will have new hours: 5-8 p.m. every Friday at 1010 Cleveland Ave.

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A sanctuary of vegetables and flowers has settled neatly inside the walls of a new wooden fence in a south-Chico neighborhood. There, tiny songbirds flutter around vine-covered arches, while bees pollinate the blossoming buds of tomatoes that are slowly turning from green to red. The sound of children playing can be heard in the background.

Without a group of determined community members, this garden around the corner from the Dorothy F. Johnson Center would have turned into another field of grass. Instead, the space has been growing and flourishing into Chico’s newest community garden.

Located on East 18th Street, the garden originally sprouted about four years ago, though not in its current incarnation. Chapman Elementary school, located less than half a mile away, had been using the space for educational purposes during its after-school program. But with no one to care for it once summer began, the garden fell into disrepair. Even worse, last summer vandals defaced the garden, destroying the fence and stealing numerous plants and vegetables.

Angie Martin, the garden coordinator with the Chico Area Recreation and Park District, worked closely with a committee of neighbors recently to re-establish the integrity of the garden. It has been up and running since the end of June and is overseen by CARD.

“It’s a very nice plot right now, and it’s secure,” Martin said. “It’s a place to go if you don’t have a place to garden. The looks of it are a big appeal.”

Tomatoes almost ready to pick.

Photo by Meredith J. Cooper

Martin credited the garden’s revival to the community members, who renamed the plot “Everybody’s Garden” and have been putting much time and effort into the formerly run-down space. It is now going strong thanks to a $3,000 grant from the Rose Foundation—money that paid for the installation of the fence, equipment and plants.

“The community element of the garden brings people together in a common space to enjoy one of the most basic human needs—food,” said Jeremy Miller, president of the Chico Food Network.

As the newest growing grounds, Everybody’s Garden helps fill a void left by last year’s closure of the Chico Community Environmental Garden, a plot housed on property owned by California Water Service Co. Miller noted that the garden is one of just two functional community gardens in Chico. The other spot— “Miracle Garden”—is located on the other side of Park Avenue at Normal and West 16th streets.

While a resurging local interest in gardening is undeniable, the popularity of community gardens in Chico is nowhere near its peak. Miller said that more than 100 community gardens were located all throughout the city in the 1970s, but as the money and energy put into them slowly vanished over the years, so did the growing grounds.

He said that keeping people interested and active in gardening is one the main difficulties in maintaining them.

For now, at least, locals have devoted themselves to ensuring Everybody’s Garden will last for years to come. Miller, for example, has committed himself to watering and tending the fruit trees that surround the garden’s fence.

In the future, he hopes to use the space not only as a source a food, but also for educational purposes. His plan is to plant culturally specific beds inside the garden in order to focus on foods that many people normally don’t see. Martin suggested foods used by Hispanic and Hmong families, and maybe even medicinal herbs.

“I admire the learning experience and all the wonderful things that go with gardening, like exercise, health and observing the natural movements of nature,” Miller said. “There is an ideal connection between nature and the human world in the sense that you’ve created your own ecosystem.”

Miller also explained that the site is a source of food for people other than the gardening participants. Every crop is available for all community members to sample, whether or not they actually work in the space. The gardeners encourage anybody who is walking through to grab a piece of fruit, or maybe pluck a tomato for a sandwich.

Some gardeners choose to give away their extra vegetables at any of the garden swaps located in town, including the Chapman Community Garden Exchange at the Chapman Food & Fitness Festival. Held each Friday at 1010 Cleveland Ave., the event has a table where produce is easily traded between community members. Everybody’s Garden gardeners, as well as CARD, would like to partner with the festival, and maybe even organize an exchange table inside the garden.

Martin encourages people who are interested in contributing to the garden to start their own group or join an already existing plot. Participation is free and the site has two open beds. She said anyone who is interested should contact the CARD office.

“If somebody wants to get involved, we want them to be involved,” she said. “We don’t want to turn anybody away, because they could help in many different ways.”