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UC MG Outreach: Los Medanos Community Garden

The Building of a Community Garden

“Success Through Self” Group Builds a Community Garden in Pittsburg, by Merl Craft, Special Projects Manager, STS Academy and Harriett Burt, UC Master Gardener of Contra Costa County.

Until the summer of 2010, a vacant half-acre lot next to the Los Medanos Community Health District (LMCHD) headquarters in Pittsburg was a desolate weed and trash-filled eyesore for drivers passing by on busy Leland Road. “Was” is the operative word here. What “Is” now to be seen on that lot is a Community Garden with raised beds, gravel paths, a deck for programs and a tool shed.

How the Los Medanos Community Health District/City of Pittsburg partnership ratified in January 2010 turned into actual visible fact in August is due in large part to a group of local young people who belong to the STS Academy’s UnderConstruction program at Riverside Alternative High School in Pittsburg, and to an STS grant from the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA) to hire low-income adults. Because of those two programs, this vision, planned to be completed in four phases over several years, was largely completed by mid-August.

STS means “Success Through Self”, and was developed through the City of Pittsburg’s recreation department to retrofit the Pittsburg community, using the hands of teenagers who would contribute to the community while learning valuable skills and acquiring important workrelated knowledge. Used on service projects in targeted redevelopment areas, STS youths in bright blue t-shirts worked on residential and commercial fence repairs or replacement, minor porch repairs, painting and landscaping tasks.

LMCHD staff read about UnderConstruction in the newspaper and contacted Projects manager Merl Craft about using the group to construct the proposed community garden. STS, by now an independent non-profit group under contract to the City of Pittsburg for youth services, set up teams led by a master carpenter and Craft. The students were schooled and tested weekly on basic information needed for construction work, including measurements of length, weight, metric conversions, tool identification and tool safety. They applied this information to construct a small garden and several benches at the Old Towne Community Center. Eight students who passed their examinations by 80 percent or better were then hired to work on the community garden project, receiving a small hourly stipend and community service hours.

Over $50,000 in funding for construction materials and supplies was provided by LMCHD. That would have been enough for Phase 1. In the meantime, STS had applied for and received the ARRA grant which covered $55,000 in labor costs for constructing Phases 2 through 4.

Through both funding sources, the garden opened on August 14, 2010 with 18 raised beds for use by the elderly and the handicapped, 28 double dug ground beds, the shed, walkways and a deck area with built-in benches that will also be used for classes conducted by the UC Master Gardeners of Contra Costa County. Redwood patio furniture donated by a generous STS board member and St. Vincent de Paul are scattered around the garden.

As the garden opening came closer, the garden committee, including UC Master Gardeners Jane and Craig Wirth (2008), discussed the rather obvious ground squirrel problem – the critters popped up often to take in what was going on. While screening had been installed under the raised beds, the ground beds could turn into a 24/7 cafeteria for the rodents. So once again, organizers turned to STS for help. In no time, two owl boxes were built and mounted on the site to hopefully to foil the squirrels and provide another important learning opportunity for STS students.

Contract landscape designer Joel Summerhill donated a sign for the garden to be painted by a Pittsburg artist. Guess who erected the sign during the first week of September? An STS crew!