An East Salinas businessman brings a patch of concrete to life with an eye toward building a neighborhood.
Thursday, November 1, 2012
In the scrubby backyard of an East Salinas 99-cent store, a movement has taken root. Leafy sprouts of tomato, broccoli and cilantro are starting to peek out from the wooden plant beds built on an inhospitable patch of concrete. This is the beginning of a community garden.
Volunteers, with the support of environmental group Sustainable Salinas, hope this garden will blossom into a point of pride for a sometimes troubled neighborhood.
The project is called Rescate Verde, or Green Rescue. More than 10 volunteers tend to the garden, which is behind Morelia’s 99¢ Store and Up on East Market Street.
“The idea is to fix this place and keep moving,” says Nicolas Chavez, a leader of the project.
Chavez, who owns a gift shop elsewhere in Salinas, had been toying with the idea of starting a community garden for a while, after he started his own gardening project at his Creekbridge-area home. A few months ago the talk turned to action, and Rescate Verde was born.
Chavez hopes the garden will inspire neighborliness, community spirit, a love for sustainability and healthy eating.
“We’re trying to build a resilient community,” says Sustainable Salinas volunteer Stuart Koster.
Though the garden is still in its infancy – even with six plant beds, there’s plenty of space left in the yard – Chavez has big plans. There are piles of wood for building more beds, and the crew has started installing an irrigation system. A ramshackle building on the back of the property might someday become a greenhouse.
Chavez also hopes the volunteers will build a special plant bed just for children by Thanksgiving. The process is slow going because it’s a volunteer effort, and almost all the supplies are donated. But eventually the project will expand, Chavez says. A nearby business has already expressed interest in creating its own garden.
“This is like a seed,” he says. “A model.”
But Chavez and crew first need to learn how to manage their project. The team is still figuring out best practices on everything from garden maintenance to donations. Once basic guidelines have been established – and more money and supplies roll in – things should run smoothly, he says.
Raquel Villalta, owner of the 99¢ Store, is enthusiastic about her new backyard project, and especially the prospect of creating activities for neighborhood children and teens.
Villalta’s 3-year-old granddaughter, Itza, sniffles unhappily as Villalta leads her to the garden. But the tears disappear as soon grandma sets her down by a plant bed. “She loves it here,” Villalta says as her granddaughter skips around a heap of topsoil.
Villalta expects Itza’s enthusiasm for the garden to spread to other kids who, she says, don’t have enough to keep them occupied. Chavez wants to tap students who need community service or volunteer hours, or who are interested in agriculture. He’s been in touch with a neighborhood organization that might supply the first young gardeners.
Villalta points to the tiny beginnings of an apple tree, its trunk twisted like the letter S. “That’s exactly what happens with the babies,” she says. “If you let them do whatever they want, they’ll grow crooked.”
But a little adjustment to the tree’s spine now should set it straight. “If you try to fix them as teenagers it’s bad,” she adds. “They might get broken.”
To volunteer at the 99¢ Store community garden, contact Nicolas Chavez at 753-2142 from 10am-6pm.