Gardening may be a hobby for the patient, but many would say the wait to get a growing space is getting absurd. The city operates two community gardens, one of which is only open to seniors. The other, Willowgate Community Gardens, had a wait list last year of more than 160 people, and city recreation officials say many in the queue seem to give up or leave the area before their turn comes up.
Mountain View officials have been listening to complaints that more growing areas are needed. In the coming months, the city will be carving out new garden space for Mountain View residents. On Tuesday, city leaders gave a round of approvals to create a new area at a vacant lot at Shoreline Boulevard and Latham Street for gardening. Meanwhile, a former residence and orchard at 771 North Rengstorff, the Steiper property, is set to become a park with an assortment of growing areas, sometime next year.
Kavita Dave Coombe got a first-hand lesson in the uphill battle for a garden plot in Mountain View when she moved to the city three years ago. She wanted her daughter to get an education about the food system, but gardening wasn't a possibility at her an apartment. Her situation wasn't uncommon, she said, pointing out that about 60 percent of residents in Mountain View are renters. Hard to believe, but it was easier to find gardening space in San Francisco, she said.
"I was hearing it all the time, people were saying 'I wish I had my own backyard to grow in,'" she said. "If there's so much demand, why not try something different?"
Last year, Coombe and a cluster of like-minded parents started Soil and Water, a budding nonprofit dedicated to nurturing gardening in Mountain View. Taking a cue from like-minded groups like Veggielution and Common Ground, Soil and Water adopted a philosophy to create shared gardens, where people cooperate on what to plant and work together to grow it. Given the limited availability of space, this co-op style of gardening seemed like a better way to allow everyone to participate and avoid the pitfall of wait-lists, Coombe explained.
For the last year, Soil and Water and its roughly 50 members have made their base of operations behind a home in the Shoreline West neighborhood. The homeowner, Viola Borreco who is in her 90s, gave the group permission to use her untended backyard as a practice garden of sorts. For Borreco, it was mostly an act of charity although she does enjoy watching children playing in her yard and the occasional eggplant plucked from her garden.
On a sunny morning Monday, about five Soil and Water members — all women — and an equal number of children gathered for their weekly garden workday in Borreco's backyard, which they have taken to calling the "Viola Garden". The group went to work at a line of long planter boxes constructed to contained an assortment of herbs, fruits and vegetables. Potatoes, tomatillos, grapes and even wheat were growing in the garden, still weeks away from being ready to eat. The only harvest was from some citrus trees — grapefruits, lemons and oranges — that had been growing for years in the backyard. Some of the bounty they would take home; some would be given away.
The children mostly busied themselves climbing trees while their mothers went to work.
"I love nature and gardening so when (Coombe) told me about this, I was super excited," said Andra McFarlane as she was transferring some strawberry plants. "We really don't have anything like this in Mountain View."
The Viola Garden arrangement was always meant to be a temporary pilot program until the group has a permanent space, Coombe said.
One possible new home would be the new Stieper park at 771 North Rengstorff, which city officials want to make into a new agricultural hub with demonstration gardens, beekeeping and historic buildings.
The Mountain View City Council on Tuesday reviewed another proposal to begin using 0.8-acre lot at Shoreline Boulevard and Latham Street as a new community garden. Parks and Recreation officials say this property has room for up to 100 new community garden plots. A proponent of the plan, Coombe describes it as a perfect space, with longstanding redwoods forming a perimeter around an open space. More sites could be considered in the future, including plots off Wyandotte Street and Middlefield Road.
In an early estimate, city staff expect to spend around $530,000 to pay for fencing, building new plots, utilities and grading to prepare the Shoreline property as a permanent garden space. That price could drop significantly as the project is further analyzed or if volunteers come forward to provide free help, said City Manager Dan Rich.
On Tuesday, City Council members gave a round of approvals to the project, throwing their support behind an idea to expedite creating 10 initial gardening plots at the site. They also backed plans to provide financial help for low-income families to pay the annual garden plot fees.
The project would be added to the city's capital-improvement list and brought back for further consideration at a future date.
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