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February 27, 2008 > To plant a community

To plant a community

By Justine Yan
Photos By courtesy of Robbie Shreffler

Spring is a season of growth and sun. Though the days get longer and the grass gets greener, in some places, people find that there still isn't enough sunlight for their budding plants.

"I only get about five hours of sunlight a day back there," said Dwight Shackelford, an amateur gardener who lives in a rented townhouse and has, with his early efforts, exhausted the possibilities of his poorly lit, 10 by 12 foot concrete patio. "It's hard to spend time improving the soil, as organic farmers do, when there is no soil to improve."

Not long after taking pride in his miniature harvest, Shackelford longed to "spread out." By November of last year, he had begun searching for a community garden.

According to the American Community Gardening Association (ACGA), a community garden is quite simply: "Any piece of land gardened by a group of people." These gardens come in diverse forms and are seen throughout the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Australia. Community gardens have been known to reduce crime rates, encourage self-reliance, beautify neighborhoods, and build a strong sense of community.

TCV decided to share Shackelford's quest for a place to finally "set his roots." The ACGA website, a major clearinghouse for community garden information, contained a directory of community gardens in each geographic region. In Fremont, a new posting:led to the Fremont Journey of Faith Community Garden.

The Fremont Journey of Faith Church, a Church of the Nazarene, has allotted a third of an acre to a community garden. A portion of this lot has already been cultivated with attendant compost piles; rye, beans, and strawberry plants are already growing.

Robbie Shreffler, leader of this project, said the role of the garden will become clear as more people roll up their sleeves. These people will determine where the vegetables will go - to personal kitchens or soup kitchens - and how the garden will operate. "So it's a twinkle in my eye, I guess, as far as what the garden will accomplish in the community," he said.

On Saturday, Feb. 16, Shreffler and several of his volunteers spread the news by handing out flyers and door hangers in the neighborhood surrounding the church.

"Generally, I think people feel that living next to each other is good enough for the term 'community,'" said Shreffler, who started this garden in hopes to build a supportive community and stronger ties between each of the members.

Shreffler and Shackelford both said they believe that it is important for people to "get back in touch with the cycles of the seasons," and connect with the process of growing foods.

When asked how members of the church and the surrounding neighborhood had reacted thus far to the garden, Shreffler said, "There are a lot of people who are kind of worried. They say, 'It's a lot of work.'"

But he hopes that when the results of their hard work become apparent, people shying away from gardening will start to take part in the deeply gratifying process.

Meanwhile, Shackelford hopes to find more interest from the local community, to gather enough voices to influence city hall. After speaking with Terrence Grindall of the City of Newark about the possibility of creating local gardens, he was told that no initiative was being taken because no one was expressing interest.

Shackelford's search for a suitable garden has led him to numerous gardens in San Jose and one in Hayward. He's learned that the Holy Lutheran Church in Fremont had been designated a possible community garden location, but the program had been abandoned due to water expenses and city regulations. Despite all this, he is eager to "get out the word."

"I'm just assuming lots of folks might be interested but don't think they can do it on their own, and don't know how to go about it."

A new year and fresh spring season has begun. About two-thirds of the Fremont Journey of Faith Community Garden has yet to be prepared, and there is still a "vacuum" to be filled in the greater Tri-City area.

As Shackelford put it, there are some things that will be necessary to ensure a sustainable and enjoyable garden, beyond just a shovel and some seeds. It will take cooperation and a true community.

"Anyway," ended Shackelford, "I look forward to seeing what comes out of this."

For more information about community gardens, visit the American Community Gardening Association website at To learn how you can get involved in the Fremont Journey of Faith Community Garden, contact Robbie Shreffler at (510) 793 2100.

Community Garden Informational Meeting
Saturday, March 1
11 a.m.
Fremont Journey of Faith a Church of the Nazarene
39009 Cindy St., Fremont
(510) 793 2100
Cost: Free and open to public

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