The Good Guys and Gals of Watsonville

 

Watsonville garden aims to grow community, healthy food


Neighbors and other community members work together to fill the 27 raised garden boxes installed next to River Park on Friday through a partnership of Mesa Verde Gardens and the city of Watsonville. (Shmuel Thaler — Santa Cruz Sentinel) 

By Donna Jones, Santa Cruz Sentinel

POSTED:  |

Community members work together to get the garden planters in place Friday. By the end March, Mesa Verde Gardens will have opened 10 gardens, providing 250 families space to grown their own organic vegetables. (Shmuel Thaler — Santa Cruz Sentinel)

 

WATSONVILLE >> The neighborhood around River Park is dense with apartments crowded with families living paycheck to paycheck. There’s little room for gardening, and little cash to put organic fruits and vegetables on the table.

The 27 raised beds newly lined up at River Park on Front Street will change that, giving families a place to grow their own organic produce.

“It’s an opportunity for people to come together, to get to know one another, and at the same time have healthy food,” said Councilwoman Karina Cervantez, who represents the neighborhood.

The idea to build the community garden developed out of conversation Cervantez had with nonprofitMesa Verde Gardens founder Ana Rasmussen.

Cervantez said some of her constituents complained that a vacant lot, once home to the city’s mobile Neighborhood Services Division, was creating public safety concerns. Then she found out about Rasmussen’s work organizing community gardens, and an idea emerged.

“I thought it was a great project to pursue,” Cervantez said.

The project wasn’t without challenges. Rasmussen said the land was a parking lot, the soil buried under 5 feet of fill packed hard as concrete. Planter boxes filled with healthy soil were the only way to go, but she had never set up a community garden with them.

Materials — wood and soil — cost $8,000, eight times the normal expense for establishing an in-ground garden. Fencing will run another $3,000, money that’s still being raised.

Fortunately, Cervantez said volunteers stepped forward to donate labor. Workers from Home Depot built the 4-by-20-foot boxes Tuesday. Friday, a crew from Driscoll’s Strawberry Associates Inc. filled them with a mixture of dirt, compost and sand.

Residents will pay $8 a month for a box, which covers water. Rasmussen estimated they’ll be able to harvest an average of 30 pounds of produce a month, May through October.

Since its founding in 2011, Mesa Verde Gardens has gone from one community garden serving 30 families to eight serving 250 families, including the three that area coming online this spring. Most are in Watsonville; one is in Live Oak.

In addition to the River Park venture, the nonprofit has entered into a partnership with the Pajaro Valley Unified School District to start gardens at Rolling Hills Middle School and Pajaro Middle School. Rasmussen said expects to start planting at the schools in April.

Mesa Verde also has planted 115 fruit trees, the bulk at a community orchard on a church-owned property on Alta Vista Drive.

Rasmussen has set a goal of establishing 100 community gardens across the county.

“More people having organic food, that’s the calling,” she said.

Mesa Verde Gardens

What: Nonprofit organizer of organic community gardens.

Why: To provide low-income families the means to grow their own food.

Where: Watsonville and Live Oak, goal is to establish 100 gardens countywide.

Details: www.mesaverdegardens.org

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