Most of the week I’m busy with email, software development, spreadsheets, Word documents, etc. By the end of the week I long for something real; something I can touch and manipulate with my hands.
That is why one rainy Sunday afternoon in February, I joined many members of Local Ecology and Agriculture Fremont (LEAF) to help trim fruit trees at the Niles Nursery. I also helped rip apart a neglected old church garden in Irvington. Together we pulled out weeds and trash, then rototilled and raked the 30’ x 30’ site into a peaceful blank canvas of dirt. Over the next few weeks LEAF will be installing fencing, laying out drip irrigation, and planting vegetables that will be ready to harvest in late spring.
LEAF is a new non-profit that plans to help start dozens of community gardens around Fremont over the next few years. We will teach people which vegetables grow well together (like “The Three Sisters “- corn, beans and squash) and how to fight garden pests without hazardous chemical pesticides. We will mobilize teams of gardeners to convert land around town to more productive uses than growing fescue grass or oxalis.
We would like to reverse the five decade trend of losing gardens to concrete and asphalt. While we need land to accommodate new development, we should also minimize the amount of rich farmland we pave over. The agricultural land in Fremont was once famous as the home of the California Nursery Company. After CalNurCo moved to Niles in 1885, the nursery grew to a spread of 500 acres and provided plants to estates up and down California.
I’m not advocating razing large parts of Fremont for commercial farming, but the community would be well served by ripping out pockets of grass here and there to plant organic vegetable gardens. Those who have picked fresh lettuce, carrots and tomatoes out of their backyard to make dinner know that this kind of salad tastes so much better than if the ingredients had been purchased from the grocery store.
I find the alchemy of gardening fascinating as well. Shoveling compost made by red wiggler earthworms onto a garden offers an opportunity to consider the magical process of turning dirty, rotten food scraps into soil amendment. I’m still quietly in awe every time I plant vegetable starts and then two or three months later a strawberry or zucchini offers itself up for my consumption. Each item of produce is like a little gift from nature.
Gardening connects us to the cycles of nature and marks the passing of the seasons as we watch plants sprout, grow and be harvested. Produce scraps then become nutrients for the next growing cycle. When we garden as a community, we become connected to each other as we work together to build resiliency into our local food system.
If you would like to learn more about what LEAF is planning, check out the website at http://www.leafcenter.org.