Randy Stannard, board chair of Oak Park Sol
Community gardener Randy Stannard shares thoughts on sustainability, community and growth.
There’s something growing in Oak Park, and it’s more than just vegetation. It started a few years ago, when Earl Withycombe inherited the lot at 3733 Broadway, a vacant lot at the time. He enlisted Cara Jennifer Solis to help him transform it into a useful space for the community, and eventually a whole nonprofit formed around it—Oak Park Sol. The organization aims to continue creating new, useful community gardens in Sacramento in the future, and helping to bring about that vision is board chair Randy Stannard. He’s an avid gardener and works at Soil Born Farms for his day job, so he knows a few things about how to plant a vegetable.
What is a community garden?
It can be a lot of things to a lot of people. When you usually say “community garden,” what comes into people’s minds is that idea where you have all these plots and everyone’s got their little square that they do their thing in. … Here we have kind of that mix of “you can have your own plot if you want,” but then we also have a lot of just everybody working together to maintain, manage, water, weed and tend some of these areas. Other components of this garden like the outdoor kitchen and the children’s garden space are having it be a community gathering space that would ideally be free and available for people to have birthday parties or outdoor meetings or whatever.
How did you get involved?
I do garden community development and food production, right now primarily focused in South Sacramento. That is my work, doing garden food production, urban ag and community organizing. … They know that I do that work and I live in Oak Park. It made sense to at least invite me to be on the board to be a part of it if I wanted to be. I thought there was a lot of potential for this site. It’s still not perfect. I would like to put energy into this and have it become something cool.
For new spaces, do you plan to stay in Oak Park?
We’ve talked about that and we haven’t come to a 100 percent answer, but I think we’re thinking city of Sacramento boundaries, maybe go into county of Sacramento, but this generally, city of Sacramento would be the area we would be looking at working in, not just Oak Park. If a property and neighbors came together, wherever it was in Sacramento, we would love to facilitate that process.
Could it lead to more than gardens?
One of the big transitions when we formed the board, we looked at the initial mission, which was to create this piece of property into a community garden and to show native plants—very focused on this piece of property. If we’re doing to develop a board and a nonprofit, it makes sense to go beyond just this piece of property. This is a great model of what could be done on a vacant lot, but not the only thing, so let’s create an organization with a mission to take vacant lots and/or other underutilized spaces, and have them become functional, productive, community managed green spaces, whatever that may be. If it’s a basketball court, and that’s what people really want, then we should help facilitate that.
Do you help people learn to garden?
We’ll have composting classes, and gardening classes, and those will be all free for people to come. We aren’t doing it consistently now, but we want to do potlucks and just get people together. Ultimately, what we want is for people to not be reliant on us, the organization. … If we can just bring people together, the novice gardener that lives next to the professional, awesome gardener that’s just been doing it for a long time, then that’s ultimately what we want. It’s a sustainable system when it’s the neighborhood taking care of itself.
What’s a good starter plant for novice gardeners?
If you have the time, doing perennial herbs, like rosemary, thyme, lavender, something like that. For one, they’re all pretty drought resistant. Perennial plants, if you can keep them alive for that first year, become quite hearty, and they also get bigger and bigger every year, so your return on investment grows.
Do you have any gardening tips?
A lot of people want to get everything on a timer so they don’t have to spend any time in the garden. … The hard reality is it takes some time and energy and focus. My tip would be, go ahead and hand-water your plants because that means you have to go out to your garden, you’re going to watering them and you’re going to have your eyes on your garden, which I think is the most important skill—your observational skills, being in the garden, you learn by direct experience.
What grows well in Sacramento?
What doesn’t grow well is almost a better question. We live in this amazing hyper-Mediterranean climate. Other than tropical stuff—mangos, avocados, papayas, pineapples—we can grow most things. In the summer, you can get amazing tomatoes and eggplants and squash and cucumbers and melons, and that sort of stuff. In the spring we get incredible strawberries and stuff growing around here. We have this great environment for growing fruit: peaches, plums, nectarines, apricots, pomegranates, kiwis, and you can go year-round, oranges, citrus. And we can grow nuts here. We live in this really incredible place.