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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

New Organic School Garden Founded By CASFS Alum

A new organic community garden situated on the land of All Saints’ Episcopal Church is gaining a lot of attention — and donations. Martinelli Children’s Community Garden, a quarter-acre plot that was previously a grassy lot, is now the hub of 30 individual family plots punctuated with budding new vegetables and flowers.

“Plans for this garden got under way in November and once it took hold, it felt like within a week it was bringing the community together,” said program organizer and CASFS Apprenticeship Alum Ana Rasmussen, who heads up nonprofit Mesa Verde Gardens. “After our initial meetings, people were coming forward anxious to get started. They were bringing in plants and getting them in the ground. People were coming in with ideas and it took off.”

The first phase was to plant a cover crop to help enrich the soil.

“We had a meeting in January — people from the area — where we tried to figure out who we were,” Rasmussen said.

A chief goal of the project, Rasmussen said, is to target childhood obesity.

“It makes sense,” she said. “To help people grow organic, nutritious food for themselves will have an impact on obesity with our young children.”

Indeed, sprinkled about the plots were organic starters of carrots, various lettuce plants, peppers, beans, cauliflower, broccoli, tomatoes, onions, strawberries, cilantro and flowers.

“It’s healthy and it helps their budget,” Rasmussen said. “On the weekend, we sometimes have 20 to 30 kids with their families working out here. Everyone really cares and they are excited to take part.”

Margarita Garcia tended her plot last week, planting tomato starters and watering.

“I had some time during spring break to get in a little gardening,” she said. “It’s a great spot; I love it out here. The land gets a lot of sun. Everybody here is really supportive.”

Rasmussen said she previously worked as a social worker for about 20 years but was struck with a need to switch tracks and move into organic gardening.

She helped spearhead 10 community gardens in 2010 at local preschools thanks to a grant from the Pajaro Valley Community Health Trust. Rasmussen said she got a running start in gardening by growing up on a farm in eastern Oregon. She studied organic farming for a summer in Idaho and worked for four months at City Slicker Farms as an intern in Oakland.

She said her direction was ultimately galvanized at a prestigious six-month program at the Center for Agro-Ecology and Sustainable Food Systems at UC Santa Cruz.

“There were people from around the world in the program,” she said. “It was a six-month, live-in, 50-hours-per-week program. It was very intense and tremendously valuable.”

The garden is now outfitted with six spigots. Families are asked to pay $5 per month to help defray water costs. Philanthropist Diane Porter Cooley helped provide a four-foot wire fence to help define the garden and protect it, Rasmussen said. Cooley also helped provide a tractor and operator to prepare the soil for the gardens.

Pacific Firewood & Lumber, Suncrest Nurseries, Upstarts Organic Seedlings and Live Earth Farm came forward with various donations, including mulch, wood chips and plant starters.

Rasmussen said the land is being leased by Mesa Verde Gardens.

The project, under the guidance of Second Harvest Food Bank, is aided by grants from Driscoll’s Berries and the Left Tilt Fund of San Francisco.

“My long-term vision is to create many community gardens,” Rasmussen said. “I feel very strongly that I was called to this work.”

Anyone interested in becoming part of the garden project is encouraged to visit the garden between 8 a.m. and noon Saturday or send an email to Rasmussen at mesaverdegardens@gmail.com.

posted by CASFS 2006 @ 7:52 PM

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