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April 1, 2011 > How does your garden grow?

How does your garden grow?

By William Marshak

East Bay vistas of the past were primarily pastoral. Orchards, fields of crops and grazing livestock dwarfed homes and businesses. As suburban and urban lifestyles became more prevalent, farmlands have disappeared, replaced by tracts of housing, factories, shopping centers and roadways. While some areas still retain a rural character, much of the rustic character of the Bay Area has been lost.

Households in some parts of the United States still include gardens that satisfy much of a family's needs for fresh produce. Crops may also be used to maintain livestock as a source of meat and protein. But urbanization concentrates populations and makes a country lifestyle difficult; as a result, many children (and adults) lose perspective of where food originates, lacking an understanding that the source of food is far removed from a can, carton or box on a grocery shelf. Basic components of farming and animal husbandry are unknown; origination of ingredients for processed food is lost. In some cases, soil alteration, genetic modification and preservation of foodstuffs that may be shipped over long distances and stored for extended periods of time alter the composition, taste and nutrition of products as well.

During times of severe stress on food supplies (i.e. World War I and World War II) people were urged to grow "Victory Gardens." Cultivation of vegetables, fruits and herbs was encouraged at residences and public parks. Since much farmland and the farmers who produced crops were lost to combat, those able to till land and produce key components of their own meals felt empowered by their own contribution to solving food shortages.

As world population grows, more pressure is placed on land use and traditional farming methods. In tandem with this trend, there has also been a rising tide of interest in home-grown produce. Scarcity of farmland and other natural resources such as water supplies in urban settings have triggered a second look into land management including small but productive gardens.

Community and school gardens have rapidly multiplied and urban farmers of all ages are now looking seriously at the quality of existing food supplies. One example of this trend is Mission Way Community Garden, established in 2010 with the help of local nonprofit LEAF (Local Ecology and Agriculture in Fremont). One of the first community gardens in Fremont, its goal is to create a sustainable organic garden open to all individuals in Fremont and surrounding communities.

Master Composter, Sarika Rathi, says that through demonstrations and community participation efforts, the garden will "improve the health and welfare of the surrounding community through improved diet, physical activity in gardening and cooking, and strive for a peaceful, just social-economic-food culture. This includes education in sustainable biologic and ecologic gardening techniques that reduce waste byproducts through composting, re-use and recycling."

Mission Community Garden, located next to Mission Way Church on Mission Boulevard in Fremont, has been very successful in its first year of operation. Recycling to supplement the soil with composted materials, the land has produced a crop of leafy green vegetables, potatoes, onions and a myriad of other "farm fresh" foods. With support of volunteers and church members, the garden is entering its second year with an expansion aided by a generous donation of compost by Waste Management, Inc. Collection of seeds from each successful crop ensures the next generation of plants.

Volunteers reap some of the bounty of the land they tend and the remainder is distributed to Tri-City Volunteers for distribution to the community. On Friday, March 11, as church member and volunteer Marie Rohner worked to maintain the garden and LEAF associate Bruce Cates drove a tractor to prepare a new plot of land for expansion of the garden, a large Waste Management truck filled with compost donated by the company, stood by poised to unload.

Community and school gardens are proliferating throughout the greater Tri-City area. Volunteers and contributions of materials and funds are always welcome. For more information about the Mission Way Community Garden and other LEAF projects, visit

Editor's Note:
This is the first of a series of articles that will highlight community and school garden efforts in the Southeast Bay Area.

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