http://mv-voice.com/print/story/print/2014/01/10/willowgate-gardeners-make-push-for-new-community-gardens


Mountain View Voice

News - January 10, 2014

Willowgate gardeners make push for new community gardens

by Daniel DeBolt

A group of local gardeners is beginning a serious push to bring more community gardens to the city, including one in a new 1-acre park at 771 North Rengstorff Ave.

"Studies have shown that with a community garden in a neighborhood that crime goes down, neighborhood pride goes up, people come together and talk about things of community interest. And they share," said resident Kieran Gonsalves, one of the gardeners behind the effort.

The group has started an online petition for the effort — which closes Jan. 14 — and plans to present it to the city's Parks and Recreation Commission on Jan. 15. Gonsalves, along with residents Judy Levy and Marcy Fein, have been working with the city to improve operations of the Willowgate community garden on Andsbury Avenue, where they each hold one of 84 garden plots available to residents. There's a long waiting list for a garden plot — the city reports that the wait can take as long as five years.

The experience of planting, caring for and harvesting from a garden in Mountain View has been limited to to those who've waited for a community plot or have a yard of their own. Whether that will change with the creation of a shared garden, where anyone can pitch in and be involved, remains to be seen.

Another group of residents lead by Kavita Dave-Coombe and others has called for such a shared garden, organized much like a "demonstration farm," such as Full Circle Farm in Sunnyvale or Veggielution in San Jose, both of which have nonprofit organizations at the helm.

"I'm not sure any one model is without its problems," Gonsalves said of having plots versus a shared garden. "Any garden would be a good idea."

Over 172 people had signed the petition as of Jan. 7, which doesn't call for a specific type of garden. It calls for the city "to create additional community gardens as a matter of priority, including using the land at 771 Rengstorff Ave."

Gonsalves said that his experience at Willowgate has been a positive one. "When I had to wait (for a plot), it made it that much more valuable. You don't take it for granted."

"I've gotten to know people of different nationalities, people from the Ukraine and France," Gonsalves said. "My children eat much more healthy. Sometimes they eat right on the plot without having to take it home and cook it. A lot of people with children, pregnant mothers or grandparents, walk through the garden and appreciate it. I believe it's really a community asset."

In the last four years, Gonsalves said Willowgate gardeners have donated 2,800 pounds of food to the Community Services Agency in Mountain View, which has a food pantry for the poorest residents in Mountain View. The group even includes recipes to go with the produce, translated into Spanish and Russian.

Gonsalves believes that community gardens also raise property values and are embraced by their neighborhoods. At Willowgate, neighbors are invited to regular "seed exchanges" and potluck dinners attended by as many as 80 people.

For 771 North Rengstorff, a 1.2-acre property sold to the city last year by longtime resident Frances Stieper, he added that it may not "make sense to hack down fruit trees" that now exist on the site "and plant tomatoes. That may not be the best use of the land."

"We want to promote the idea of a community garden for 771 North Rengstorff," Gonsalves said. "We really want to get people out to talk about it and come up with whatever they feel is right for its use and find the best model that fits it."

Email Daniel DeBolt at ddebolt@mv-voice.com

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