NCO Logo

We invest in people through community action.

image

Above: Lake County Gardens Project Coordinator Ava Ryan gets her hands dirty in the name of building a local, resilient food system.

New USDA grant will build community gardens in Lake County

Monday, November 2, 2015

In 2007, North Coast Opportunities (NCO) established The Gardens Project in Mendocino County to help increase access to healthy, fresh, local, and just foods. The Gardens Project encourages self-reliance by helping people cultivate food and develop leadership skills. Since 2007, The Gardens Project has created or redeveloped 38 school and community gardens, has trained 75 garden leaders, and has offered countless free workshops and other events in the gardens. The Gardens Project recently received a three-year USDA Community Food Project grant to replicate this successful model in Lake County.

The ultimate goal of this grant is to build 10 new gardens in low-income neighborhoods, as well as develop leadership, advocacy, and organizational skills among garden leaders by providing intensive leadership training. The grant will also include free gardening trainings and food production workshops.

NCO has hired Ava Ryan as the Lake County Gardens Project Coordinator, and she will work out of NCO’s Clearlake office. Ryan got involved at an early age in the local food movement in her hometown of Brooklyn, NY, and studied sustainable agriculture at Cornell University. She has since worked on research and production farms, and has used gardens in educational settings both internationally and in Sonoma County. “I’m excited to work with the local communities and organizations in Lake County,” says Ryan. “It’s an incredible opportunity to combine my skills and my passion for food to help build a more resilient local food system.”

Over the next year, The Gardens Project will identify key neighborhoods for community gardens around the county with the intent of establishing at least two new gardens by the end of 2016. Rural Communities Housing and Development Corporation manages more than 1,000 low-income rental units for families and seniors, and will help create access to garden sites at their locations. Additional land will come from private donations or will be leased from the city. Once sites have been identified, the California Conservation Corps will help clear land and build garden infrastructure. Community gardeners usually pay a low annual fee – around $20 to $30 – which includes water, tools, irrigation equipment, and seeds. Community gardens typically range in size from 20 to 40 individual plots. Plot sizes average 10x10 square feet, but can be as small as 5x5 or as large as 20x20.

NCO has a history of working with gardens in Lake County. In the past several years, The Gardens Project has helped develop three Lake County community gardens, including the NCO Clearlake Food Pantry Garden, the FLOW Garden located on East Highway 20 in Lucerne, and the North Shore Villas Apartment Garden which serves seniors and those with disabilities. According to North Shore Villas Garden Leader Lorrie Rose, “The water system NCO put in has worked out so very well. Even people in wheelchairs and scooters can navigate around the garden and use the hoses with little difficulty.”

Ryan is eager to build on these previous successes, and is currently working with the Highlands Senior Center in Clearlake to open their one-acre garden to gardeners in the community. “A lot of the infrastructure is already in place, so the garden should be ready for 20-30 families to grow food in the spring,” says Ryan.

In addition to community gardens, The Gardens Project is working to develop a network of community members and groups involved in food, nutrition, and agricultural issues that will encourage long-term food policy planning. The initial model will be loosely built on the foundation created by the Lake County Food Roundtable, which has been functioning for several years as an informal food policy council. The end goal is to develop a local food action plan that will address food production and access in Lake County.

If you have any questions or are interested in supporting or developing a community garden in your neighborhood, feel free to contact Ryan via email at aryan@ncoinc.org, or call 707-994-4647 ext. 131.

Program(s) Involved: The Gardens Project