Gardeners dream big, start small
Volunteers, support sought for EDH community garden
A community garden … A place where friends gather to grow vegetables, fruit, flowers and perhaps, more importantly, the community itself.
There’s no substitute for working side by side with your neighbors, sharing the feeling of the loam between your fingers, delicately placing tender shoots into moist soil, waiting for the miracle.
“There’s nothing closer to God than dirt,” said Susan Johnson.
Johnson sat through a community meeting where the proposed cuts to the El Dorado Hills Senior Center’s subsidized senior nutrition program were explained. “It just thought … let’s grow our own food,” she said.
Johnson, who spearheaded the Jeff Mitchell Field project, quickly became the driving force on the newly founded El Dorado Hills Community Garden.
The El Dorado Hills Fire Board approved a one-acre garden behind Station 86 on Bass Lake Road last month, and agreed to let Johnson and a loosely defined nonprofit, the El Dorado Hills Community Coalition (EDHC2) use the land on the condition that it doesn’t cost the fire district a penny.
The garden site is located off Silver Dove Way, on the far back side of the 10-acre fire district parcel, roughly 200 feet west of the fire station’s back parking lot and 75 feet from the existing unpaved road.
Water will be provided from a fire hydrant on the site. The gardeners will purchase a meter and pay the fire district for monthly water usage. Some grading will be required to level the land and create a short road from Silver Dove to the garden site.
The plot will be fenced to keep out hungry rabbits, deer and voles. Raised bed planters, walkways, picnic tables and garden sheds are all on the “to do” list for the summer of 2011.
Fruit trees, a compost system, a shaded pavilion and a patch of “Gerber” daisies (Johnson’s favorite) are on the dream list.
Encouraged by former fire chief Brian Veerkamp and local PR man Greg Jones, Johnson and her close friend Rachel Michelin recruited an all-star supporting cast of local activists from Bass Lake and Four Seasons civic groups to join them on the non-profit board.
John Thomson and Hal Erpenbeck have taken the lead on filing the forms to make the foundation a legitimate non-profit. John Raslear, Jon Jakowatz and Don Gibson round out the board. Lourdes Lewis, Tony Rogozinski and many others are also lending advice and encouragement. The shovels come later.
Local restaurateur Richard Righton (Bidwell Street Bistro, Relish Burger Bar) has offered his food preparation assistance, if it comes to that.
“We haven’t even asked for help and people like Richard and Wendy (Righton’s chef, Wendy Mentink) are coming forward,” said Johnson. “A couple local churches have heard what we’re doing and want to help, and the Lions have also approached us.”
The group hasn’t confirmed whether, under the strict nutrition program guidelines, they will be allowed to actually feed any seniors. Johnson would love the garden to supply a salad bar at the Senior Center, and also envisions selling produce at the local farmers market with proceeds going to feed local seniors.
“One way or another the veggies will benefit the seniors,” she said. “We’ll give them away if we have to. I’m not looking to sustain or replace the senior nutrition program. This is just a supplement. I also want it to be a model for other communities.”
The group’s goal is to make the site ready for planting in the spring of 2012.
“Why wait?” is the message from plumber Ron Mikulaco, who owns and leases agricultural property on Green Valley Road. He’s offered to provide a tilled and nearly ready-to-plant acre a full year earlier than the fire district parcel will be ready. His land is adjacent to the strawberry stand located along the south side of Green Valley Road at Green Springs Ranch, 1.7 miles east of Silva Valley Parkway.
The soil has been used for strawberries in past years, and is nearly ready for planting. Mikulaco asked that no pesticides be used, but there are few other restrictions on the property. A parking area, porta-potty, picnic table, shade and water are all in place.
Mikulaco, concerned that the time to plant is rapidly approaching, has already started germinating seeds for the project. “I think I’ve snipped enough red tape to get a crop in the ground this summer,” he said.
Johnson and Michelin met with Mikulaco and his neighbor Erik Powell, who owns the potential garden site last week.
With the foundation established, Johnson plans to concentrate on grant writing and fundraising for both the garden and the senior nutrition program, and put out a plea for volunteer garden coordinators. To get involved send an e-mail with “EDH Community Garden” in the subject to firstname.lastname@example.org.