Organizers need to raise about $75K to build out 25 plots
Published in the February 7 – February 20, 2018 issue of Gilroy Life
Gardening enthusiast Steven Stratton started 2018 with a special New Year’s resolution for the downtown. He and other members of the Gilroy Demonstration Garden want to revitalize a block-sized plot of land by turning it into a community garden.
Adding space for about 25 raised soil beds will enable residents to grow their own organic fruits and vegetables. Bordered by the Veterans of Foreign War Building and the Gilroy Arts Center, the garden started out as a project by the Leadership Gilroy class of 2010. It was an effort to teach residents and children how to grow fruits and vegetables. Now volunteers want to make it a place where people can grow food and gather for fun events.
“In the beginning they did not really have a plan for sustainability,” Stratton said. “They planned it, they built it, and for a couple of years it was pretty well maintained. But over the past few years, it has gone sort of fallow. It has not been an effective demonstration of gardening practices. In fact, the only thing we’re really demonstrating is perhaps how to grow weeds.”
Stratton served as one of the founding members of the Morgan Hill Community Garden, which is located next to the county courthouse on Butterfield Avenue. (That garden will eventually be moved to another location to make way for a new fire station.) The project was a “huge success” with garden hobbyists, he said. Selected residents of Morgan Hill worked on 70 raised soil beds when it opened. So popular were these beds that the garden eventually expanded to 95 plots.
When Stratton moved to Gilroy, he could no longer retain his plot at the Morgan Hill Community Garden. And he met other Gilroy residents who shared a wish to have a small allotment of space to get their hands into the soil and grow fresh food. He got on the Gilroy Demonstration Garden board and proposed a revitalization program. A final price tag for the project is not yet available but he estimates the cost will be about $75,000, depending on factors such as donated materials. About a third of the expense will be the installation of a tall security fence around the garden’s perimeter to keep out trespassers. Currently, people go into the demonstration garden and vandalize the property, drink alcohol, use drugs and other inappropriate activities, Stratton said.
When the project is finished, the “Gilroy Demonstration Garden 2.0 version” can serve as a gathering place for public and private events including birthdays, wedding and anniversary ceremonies and maybe intimate outdoor concerts, he said.
“I think that when it’s done it’s going to be a model for communities across the country,” Stratton said.
The property is owned by the city, which leases it to the Gilroy Arts Alliance. The Gilroy Demonstration Garden nonprofit subleases it, he said.
“Now we’re looking for people with passion about gardening to either be advisors or step onto our board,” he said. “We want to get some new blood and new thinking on this redesign. We want people who have a vested interest in making this a beautiful place.”
The project organizers plan to launch a GoFundMe page and start a social media campaign to raise public awareness of the need to “reboot” the Gilroy Demonstration Garden, Stratton said. They also hope to receive grant money from the Gilroy Foundation and other organizations. The project has an ambitious timeline, with the hope by organizers of a ribbon cutting on April 28, Earth Day, and the planting of the first seeds in a new bed by children to celebrate the revitalization.
Stratton hopes the families who will be living in the Alexander Station apartment complex on 10th Street now under construction a short walk away will be among those getting involved with a planting bed.
“Those people will not have any yard or a place to grow food in their own garden,” he said. “So, I believe it will be no problem filling those 25 plots.”
The revitalization of the garden will also help make downtown Gilroy more attractive for visitors and residents. Stratton hopes that maybe a restaurant or two will get their own soil beds and plant herbs and vegetables to serve their patrons. And he sees a potential for the Rebekah Children’s Services organization a short walk away might also use a plot to show children how plants grow — and the produce can be used by young chefs training at its culinary academy.
To get families and individuals interested in involvement in the Gilroy Demonstration Garden, organizers held a special Martin Luther King Day of Service event Jan. 15 to encourage community spirit with residents working on the garden, said Judy Hess, the garden manager and president of the nonprofit’s board. Children and parents teamed up and learned a bit about garden labor by weeding, pruning tree limbs and doing other chores to get the soil ready for spring.
“We’re dedicated to supporting and educating the community on environmentally-sustainable gardening and healthy living,” she said. “It is a place where community comes together to learn and share ideas. The food grown in the garden is donated to a local food kitchen and volunteers, as well as sold at the garden’s farm stand.”
The nonprofit has a mandate to educate youth using the garden as a real-world learning experience. With the revitalization of the garden, the organizers hope to make it an attractive place for schools to bring children to learn about how nature produces fresh food using soil, water, air and sunshine. Gavilan College plans to provide volunteers to help teach children the science of biology, Stratton said.
“When it’s in full swing, it’s going to produce a lot of fresh food product for the community,” he said. “We want the kids to come in and see gardening practices. As with the Morgan Hill Community Garden, the long-term goal is to have outreach to the schools and perhaps have a school garden that is supported by the demonstration garden and community gardening in Gilroy.”