Next to W Street, Highway 50 rises loudly on its way out of town. Semis and double rigs downshift to climb the Pioneer Bridge over the Sacramento River.
“I tune it out.”
[VROOM, ROARING TRUCKS, fades]
"When you start gardening, your cares go away. You don’t think about those things. I envision a waterfall or rapids in the background... It’s a contrast between the urban setting of a freeway and the farm life of an urban farm right in the downtown area. "
Bill Maynard oversees five community gardens in the Sacramento city limits. He’s standing in the most unruly one. You’ve probably driven right by it -- at W & 4th Streets.
"This is the Southside Community Garden. We’re at the City of Sacramento’s first community garden. It’s almost an acre in size. In season, lots of tomatoes, tomatillos, of course squash, end of garlic season is here, all sorts of herbs are springing up. The beets are doing well, the chard, and over there is the Jerusalem artichokes. We’ve got 15 varieties of different grapes growing here. This year we’re going to be making wine."
Southside Community Garden is a freak of fertility and found materials. In one patch, beans climb an old rattan headboard re-purposed as a trellis. Today Maynard's in his usual flowered shirt and baseball cap. His work boots stomp over paths of woodchips.
“A lot of these are neighbors that live sort of in the same area. It’s a shady area, so they don’t have that nice 6 hours to 8 hours sun that’s needed to grow tomatoes or most produce. So, they need a community garden.”
A community garden is any patch of land gardened by a group of people. The gardens Bill Maynard runs are part of the Sacramento parks department. An annual fee gets you a plot about the size of an average bedroom. There’s water, a shed full of tools and bins of black gold – handmade compost.
Considering we’re in an economic downturn, you might think saving money is the motivation behind the city gardening phenomenon. It’s not. Well, maybe it is, a little. A few blocks away, at Fremont Garden at the corner of Q and 14th Streets, community gardeners here have other reasons to dig in the dirt after work.
“My name’s Randy McCreary. I live in Midtown here. I work for a biotech company. It costs $100 a year for me to have this plot and I think I can produce a lot more than $100 worth of vegetables. There’s the satisfaction aspect of just watching what you plant grow. There’s also satisfaction for people who live in apartments to just have a little bit of real estate. I have 16 tomato plants. I have a big saucepot…and I make big batches of sauce.”
“My name is Christina Fitzhugh. I’ve lived in downtown, Midtown for almost 10 years. And I don’t drive to work. I walk or ride my bike, so I’m out on the street all the time. I’ve been in the garden for one year, and I have met more people in downtown Sacramento and know more people on a first-name basis just from this garden …. “
“I’m Heidi Wadsworth and I live in Midtown. I used to live in a really rural area and always had a garden and have missed it terribly living in an apartment.. So I found out about the community gardens and got myself on a waiting list and it took a year.”
Well it only took 8 months for Ellen Trescott to make the top of the waiting list. She's glad she didn't throw in the trowel
“It’s bigger once you get inside. It’s beautiful! People have little structures and benches and statues. It’s almost … art.”
And it’s almost time for Trescott to choose one of the two remaining plots. But there’s one more step – mandatory orientation. She listens as Bill Maynard puts the community in community gardening.
"Everybody has to put in two hours a month raking the leaves, sweeping up the leaves. There’s committees to help with that maintenance -- the pathway committee, outside perimeter committee, kids committee, compost committee, tool shed committee. This is an all organic garden. We don’t allow any Miracle Gro products. We do have prohibitive plants, illegal plants like marijuana [PAPERS FLUTTER] Produce, you can’t sell it. "
Trescott is undaunted by the do’s and don’ts. She chooses a plot with a head start – strawberries planted by the last gardener… a tasty payoff for Ellen Trescott’s months of patience.
I was going crazy growing tomatoes on my fire escape.
No urban tomato deserves that. Besides, Sacramento has a unique calling for as many gardens it can plant. In the words of Alexander Hamilton: “A garden -- you know -- is a very usual refuge of a disappointed politician.”
And, just for the record, you can grow about $400 worth of food in a community garden.