By Carol Dyer
It just sat there – an empty lot next to the old house on the corner. It was a good place to throw trash. It was also a good place to hang out and do drugs. That is what the lot in this nice neighborhood became -a trash heap full of weeds and a hangout for druggies. The neighbors hated what was going on in and around that lot. It wasn’t safe, and it was an eyesore. But what could they do? Certainly the property owner didn’t seem to care.
Enter the Community Garden Project. With the vision of two key people, Samuel Rose and Erika Goetz, a small financial donation and the hard work of a small group of volunteers, the first garden was launched just over a year ago. This first garden, Jardin Encinas, is located on the corner of Encinas and Guillermo Prieto in La Paz and is open to the public weekdays from 5:00 p.m. until 8:00 p.m. and on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.
The success of the first garden allowed for the formation of a nonprofit organization called Raiz de Fondo. Through this organization, additional funds are being raised and two additional gardens are now in operation. Sabores De La Tierra (Tastes of the Earth) in the Colonia Manglito is on Nayarit below Abasolo, almost in front of the beach. This garden is truly a community project. Instead of parceling out sections to individuals, the entire community participates in its operation, sharing the work and the harvest. The third garden is known as Jardin Guamuchil, located on Colegio Militar between Altamirano and Ramirez. Gardens Encinas and Guamuchil offer small parcels for adoption by the public. The spaces are without charge except for a small contribution needed to cover the cost of water and electricity. Gardening guidance is always free, and supplies are provided at small cost. I visited Jardin Encinas on a hot and sunny day in July. I was amazed at what I found. There isn’t too much growing at this time of year because it is so hot, and water is scarce. As a result, many plots are being allowed to dry out, but it is a thriving, busy place nonetheless. Bertine Zandbergen, one of the many volunteers, showed me around. All 29 plots at this garden are adopted, and there is a waiting list. The garden provides access and educational opportunities in gardening to the general public at no charge. Activities include workshops on sustainable gardening while providing green space for the enjoyment of the neighborhood and growing areas for community members. Volunteers help facilitate workshops and also maintain and monitor the site. Without these dedicated workers, the community garden project would not be possible. Some of the more recent workshops included how to prepare beds for planting, gardening for beginners, vermiculture, cooking organically, agronomy, composting, growing vertically (when garden space is limited), using worms, planting seeds, and more. Currently the workshops are in Spanish. However, if a group of at least 12 people will commit, there is hope of conducting a 12-hour basic organic gardening course in English. Interested persons should contact Erika Goetz at email@example.com.
There are also cooking classes where organic food from the garden is prepared and shared. There is an old house on the corner of the property and it has been spruced up and now serves as a gathering place for gardeners, volunteers, and neighbors. A visit to this old house alone is worth the trip.
In addition to the gardens, RAIZ DE FONDO has helped introduce several gardens in communities outside of La Paz, including work with ranchers transitioning away from raising cattle. This fall there are plans to coordinate gardening information to marginal communities through the governmental Family Development Agency, DIF. There is also a school initiative to introduce organic gardening to the La Paz schools. Kids from La Paz and the surrounding area and their teachers visited the Sabores De La Tierra in April and spent an hour learning and tending to the garden.
There is a wealth of information at the community garden blog: jardinencinas.blogspot.mx. There you will find information about workshops, garden locations, hours they are open to the public, recipes, and how you can become a volunteer.
Visiting the Garden reminded me of a story told by a colleague some years ago about his visit to a well-known desert garden. Wanting to make sure the man that built the garden gave credit where credit was due, my friend said, “Wow! What a beautiful place you and the Good Lord have created here.” The man replied, “I’ll give you that. If it wasn’t for the miracle of the soil, the sun, and the rain, there would be no garden. But you should have seen this place a few years ago when God had it all by himself.”