This month, I attended the American Community Gardening Association's annual conference in San Francisco. The conference had a lot to offer for community gardeners and community gardening professionals at all levels of involvement. I participated in 2 panels, 1 discussing community gardening policies which attracted a lot of interest as many cities are grappling with how to create a policy that will work. We had a lively discussion and a lot of ideas were shared. The point we were trying to make and the workshop title was "One Size Does Not Fit All" but even so it was worthwhile to hear what others were doing as a way to think about what could work in any city.
The second panel discussed the long term sustainability of community garden networks. There were many models, from cities that have highly managed networks of community gardens to cities that for one reason or another leave a lot to the community gardeners to organize and manage. What was clear throughout was that sustainability was the common goal - there was no wrong or right way to get there.
I attended a workshop about Lafayette Greens , a community space paid for and developed by Compuware a Detroit based software company that created a space on a vacant lot 2 blocks from their offices that provides produce to the local food pantry as well as space for residents and office workers to enjoy. While it is a not your typical community garden - the 1/2 million dollar price tag and the fact that it was built by contractors are not usual occurrences - but it does provide a lot of the same benefits of a community garden and it was built to be moved if the climate for business in Detroit improves to the point where the land will be needed for other purposes. This kind of turns the idea that community gardens improve the neighborhood to the point where the garden (and gardeners) can't afford to live there anymore on it's head. This garden was built to improve the neighborhood to the point where the garden would have to move, hmmm.
But for me the most interesting part of the conference was the garden tour. It was doubly interesting because it was a bicycle tour so I was able to do 2 of my favorite things at the same time, ride a bike and visit gardens. It was an enjoyable several hours of multitasking. I've visited San Francisco in the past but have never ridden a bike there.
We visited the Glide Memorial Church's Graze the Roof garden that had all sorts of vertical planters (above) as well as other moveable planters made from recycled crates and other objects (below). They composted, kept bees and collected rainwater on the roof, three of the gardening practices that are key to a sustainable garden.
The tour continued to a garden on Department of Public Works land. Located on the corner of Larkin and McAllister, The Tenderloin Peoples Garden was only about a year old but had the most chance of permanency of the 4 gardens I visited and it had a view of City Hall (below) and could be seen from City Hall.
The gardeners also had plans for a 17 foot high vertical garden structure designed by a young architect for a large wall on one side of the garden that included stairs to reach the higher planting areas and rainwater collection from the adjacent buildings. The drain pipes and the wall are pictured below.
The Hayes Valley Farm was huge, located on what was an entry and exit ramp to Highway 101 that was damaged in the Earthquake in 1994. They have created all of the soil they use from sheet composting and there are a number interesting sculptures and structures in the space.
Plans to build new housing on the space are imminent, maybe as soon as October of this year but there is a piece of the land that is not in the development plan that could be a much smaller and possibly more permanent garden.
We ate lunch at the Free Farm, which is exactly what the name says - they had a free produce pickup in the farm while we were there. The garden is on a steep slope on the site of a church that burned to the ground.
They have permission to use the space but the church has plans to sell the land in the near future. They had a compost system, a greenhouse as well as a rainwater harvesting system and they grew many exotic vegetables. A number of vegetables were native to Southeast Asia and tropical areas but seemed to thrive in the San Franciscan frost free climate. Tree Kale is pictured below.
The conference, the gardens and the community gardeners made this conference and the time I spent in San Francisco interesting and rewarding. The pictures and descriptions only begin to tell and interesting and exciting story of the vibrancy of the community garden movement as told by San Franciscans but a similar but unique story could be told by dozens of cities across North America.