1 in 7 Americans lack access to fresh, healthy, affordable food. For them, every day is a struggle to find enough food to eat. Many do not have reliable access to enough food, in part because they cannot afford it. In Mendocino County and Lake County those numbers are 1 in 6 and 1 in 5 people respectively. People in Lake and Mendocino Counties experience hunger at higher rates than the national average because rural areas have high unemployment rates, low-wage jobs, and lack of transportation to reliable food sources.
The Gardens Project of North Coast Opportunities seeks to relieve hunger and inadequate nutrition throughout Mendocino and Lake Counties by creating access to community-based food production and local, nutritious food. Since its founding in 2007, the Gardens Project has helped establish 38 successful community and school gardens. These gardens produce 28,470 pounds of produce and feed more than 3,000 people every year. Each year, over 200 people attend free workshops on food production and healthy eating in both Mendocino and Lake Counties. And, since 2011, they have trained more than 75 gardeners to become positive leaders in their communities to ensure effective management and sustainability of community gardens. In November 2015, the Gardens Project expanded further into Lake County. Project Coordinator, Ava Ryan has already begun work on two community gardens in Clearlake and is “currently investigating numerous other sites throughout the county, and hopes to have at least three gardens finished by the end of 2016.”
Shannon Kleiber, Garden Leader at Vinewood Park Community Garden in Ukiah says of how her garden makes a difference in her life – “Being able to grow in the community garden saves me a lot of money on organic produce. It greatly increases the diversity of the foods I eat. The garden is also very therapeutic for me. The community gardens create a positive local environmental impact for pollinators, wildlife, healthy soils and air. These gardens encourage healthy eating and connecting with nature for everyone involved. Thanks to her participation in her local community garden, Klieber says, “I have met and built amazing friendships with people in my community.”
The Gardens Project relies on government grants and community fundraising to continue to expand and sustain their network of gardens. On April 4th, 2016 the Gardens Project launched their “Let’s E.A.T.” online fundraising campaign to raise $20,000 to support current and future community garden projects. E.A.T. is an acronym that stands for “Empower”, “Access” and “Teach,” and that is what they aim to do with the funds raised. With $20,000, the Gardens Project will be able to “Empower 20 new gardeners through leadership training, create access to 4 new gardens benefitting 400 family members and teach 15 gardening and nutrition workshops to more than 200 people.” You can view and make a donation to the Let’s E.A.T. campaign at: https://www.generosity.com/community-fundraising/let-s-e-a-t.
The demand for new gardens is high. A survey conducted in Lake County found that 36% of low income respondents would participate in a community garden if they had access to one. Ava Ryan Lake County Coordinator currently has “at least 100 people interested and waiting for a community garden in northern Lake County.” In Mendocino County there are “existing lists of at least 5-10 families at every community garden waiting to receive the opportunity to have a plot of their own” according to Mendocino Project Coordinator Stephanie Logsdon. In a recent Lake County survey, 47% of respondents said that the lack of community gardens was a major barrier to healthy food consumption. The demand for fresh, affordable fruits and vegetables exists the Gardens Project just needs the support of the community to bring the gardens to the people.
“I’ve been growing stuff and I’ve really liked it because it’s so much cheaper than the stores, the stores are crazy. I mean, look at all this [she points to her raised bed full of greens] and I still have stuff, and I’ve been picking off this for two months. I can give some to the neighbors and everything,” says Ruth Smith of her community plot. Ms. Smith is mostly wheelchair bound and her raised bed plot makes growing food easy and accessible for her.
In addition to the online fundraiser, the Gardens Project team will also be hosting a series of events and garden workdays for Earth Day.
April 23rd, Vinewood Community Garden, 10 am-2 pm – Join Ukiah community gardeners in preparing for spring! Plant perennials, remove Bermuda grass and top off raised beds with compost.
April 23rd, Peachtree Community Garden, 2 pm-4 pm – Support this pre-school and veterans garden with general garden tasks and sign painting!
April 24th, Willits Community Garden, 12 pm-2 pm – Work alongside new and seasoned community garden members to prepare this garden for the spring season
April 24th, Willits Preschool Garden, 1 pm-3 pm – Help Head Start families with garden tasks and sign painting!
For more information, contact Ava Ryan in Lake County by emailing her. Phone: 707-994-4647 x131 and Stephanie Logsdon in Mendocino County email Stephanie Phone: 707-462-1958 or view the Gardens Project Facebook page or www.gardensproject.org.