Family Harvest Farm: New East County Demonstration Garden Coming Soon!
by David George
A new East Contra Costa County Master Gardener demonstration garden is in the works! Funding approval was gained in February and work is now in progress for the garden on a portion of the Family Harvest Farm (FHF) grounds on Power Avenue in Pittsburg. The area is owned by PG&E as an easement for overhead power distribution lines, but 3.5 acres were leased from PG&E in 2016 by the John Muir Land Trust (JMLT) to develop an urban garden. The trust hired 3 staff members to manage the FHF development, to recruit and train apprentices, and to coordinate with the UC Master Gardener Program of Contra Costa County (UCMGCCC) for their new 2,000 square foot demonstration garden.
“I became knowledgeable of the local foster care system,” Jack says, “when my daughter fostered two infants about 12 years ago. They’re now my grandkids! I saw so many teenage foster youths struggle when their ages began to approach the limit of the system trying to make the transition to independent adult living. Kim and I approached Linus Eukel, the head of JMLT with the concept of an educational urban farm where foster youths could intern for a wage, and not only learn sustainable growing practices but also acquire great adult coping skills. Linus told us, ‘I’ll find you the land!’” The location that Linus found is nearly ideal because the surrounding area is a “USDA-designated Food Desert”.
The infrastructure of the farm, including all permitting, roads, water, fencing, irrigation, and outbuildings, was funded through contributions from individuals, foundations, and businesses. This amounted to close to $1 million. Two local service clubs also contributed labor, materials, and buildings, including a greenhouse, storage facilities, security cameras, water lines, and other significant elements. The farm manager, apprentices, and volunteers installed an extensive drip irrigation system for the planting beds.
Community Gardens lead, Karen Maggio helped Jack and Kim gain funding approval within the UCMGCCC. Kim and Jack picked up approvals from the Pittsburg City Council for the FHF garden plans. “We paid for the various permits through word-of-mouth fund-raising,” says Kim, adding “The general public has no idea what these youths go through.”
UC Master Gardener Allison Thomas, the current project liaison for the UCMGCCC instructs by example two or three days per week. Her favorite activity is working alongside the foster apprentices, guiding their efforts. “We don’t teach, we give them tips. The apprentices trust me, and that makes working together so much easier.” Rounding out the UCMGCCC volunteer team are Jan Manns, Rae Cecchettini, Suzanne Miller, Cheryl Schmidt, and Shawna Anderson.
“The strategy is important,” says Jack. “We will start with two family gardening plots of 100 square feet each. The UCMGCCC volunteers are currently working mostly on setup. But we are looking for community volunteers to help out with follow-on steps. It will be great to receive their assistance, but they’ll also be learning about sustainable urban gardening techniques. The objective of FHF and the UCMGCCC is to increase experiential learning opportunities for them to the point of utilizing the full 2,000 square feet of space for the demonstration area, like an outdoor classroom.”
Projects soon underway include constructing raised beds that are sensitive to the access needs of the ADA community, and the creation of the 100 sq. ft. plots to demonstrate what a family can grow with limited cultivating space. The garden should be well on its way to completion by mid-summer, with a community event being planned for late summer or early fall. The public is welcome to stop by to watch the garden develop or to contribute much-appreciated volunteer hours.
What will be the name of the new demonstration garden, Jack?
“I don’t know! We’re looking for community and UCMGCCC input on that. This will be such an awesome new community demonstration garden, it deserves a great name. ”
Visit www.jmlt.org/calendar to learn more about upcoming events and how you can participate as a community volunteer.