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How Does Your Garden Grow? With Community Effort

The "350 Garden Challenge" challenges Sonoma residents to clean up their act by committing to a green community project.

In the Springs Village affordable housing development, located in sprawling west side of Agua Caliente, negotiating fresh produce at the dinner table can often be a hard sell - almost a third of the residents have diabetes, and obesity rates run high.

But as part of “350 Home and Garden Challenge,” a countywide eco-initiative sponsored by Daily Acts, two community organizers are chipping away at the culture of fast food.

 “You tell people that they need to eat organic food and they say ‘oh it’s too expensive',” said Zuli Baron, a community organizer with St. Joseph’s Health System who regularly works with the mostly Hispanic community in the Springs Village.  “But, there’s nothing cheaper than growing your own food.” 

So last year Baron partnered with Alejandra Cervantes, who heads the Hispanic organizing group Nuestra Voz, and came up with a garden challenge: using discarded wine barrels, split in two, create planters for the residents of the Springs Village.

“There’s not a lot of space here to make gardens, so the barrel gardens make it possible to grow,” said Cervantes.

The team planted almost 60 of the barrel gardens, which sit in most homes in the Springs Village development, and host regular follow-up classes in garden care and cooking from the garden.

This is just one project spurred by the “350 Home and Garden Challenge,” which draws its name from the number scientists say is the safe upper limit of atmospheric carbon dioxide levels.

Participants register their projects – which can include anything from gardening to grey water - on the Daily Acts website, where they receive community support and regular inspiration. The goal: 1,000 actions towards a more sustainable environment.

"We are seeing such a positive amount of response to this Home and Garden Challenge, as people unplug from consumptive lifestyles and ‘dig in’ to create a more sustainable Sonoma County," said Daily Acts Program Director Erin Axelrod.

Supervisor Valerie Brown says that programs like the 350 Garden Challenge will help Sonoma County reach its greenhouse gas emissions goals – aiming for a 25 percent reduction of 1990 emissions by 2015.

 “It is going to take every single Sonoma County resident to make that commitment as well. Effective policies rely on the people who are making significant changes in their daily lives,” said Brown.

Community members like Claudia de La Pena are doing their part.

A member of Transition Sonoma Valley, La Pena committed to using her gardening know-how to help her neighbors convert their lawns – wasted space in La Pena’s eyes – to fully useable vegetable gardens.

“ I want to teach the kids how to grow their own food and teach their families and their neighborhoods to use their space efficiently,” said La Pena.

Others are also getting creative with the projects. In Cotati, a group of neighbors are installing a community wide grey water system – which makes sanitary use of used water. Avid Sebastopol cyclists organized a “Bike Brigade” work party, traveling from site to site to lend gardening manpower. And the Petaluma Library is adding a rainwater harvesting system to their front lawn.

But, beyond the 1,000 project goal, event organizers are hopping the acts will take a life of their own.

“It’s exciting to be a part of anything that’s really introducing the idea of being more sustainable and self-sufficient and taking a different look at where you’re living and your surroundings,” said La Pena.

Join the 350 Garden Challenge by registering online or calling 707-789-9664. The challenge is organized by Daily Acts in partnership with  iGROW, Transition Sebastopol, The Share Exchange, and Living Mandala. The Sonoma County Water Agency is the lead sponsor.

Suzanne Barbara April 26, 2011 at 12:30 AM
This sounds like a great program. I have grown produce in large flower pots for many years--supply all of my tomatoes and green peppers that way. And what a good way to get kids involved--if they grown the produce, they will be more likely to enjoy eating it.

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