Food and friendship from the backyard garden

Posted on May 17, 2013 by Sonoma Valley Sun

(Melinda Kelley | For The Sun) This weekend, people across the County will be busy planting gardens, installing rain barrels, hanging clotheslines and shopping at local farmer’s markets. As they do on most Sonoma spring weekends, residents will be taking action in their front yards and growing a more sustainable and healthy community.

What makes the 350 Home & Garden Challenge weekend, May 18-19, unique is simply the scale of activity. The goal is to inspire 3,500 actions to grow food, conserve water, save energy, green transportation, support local living and build community. The challenge itself has shown impressibe growth, with 628 garden actions in 2010, 1,044 actions in 2011 and 2,304 in 2012.

One particularly interesting local 350 Home & Garden project is a neighborhood garden that sprouted up four years ago from a good friendship and a vacant lot.

Jennifer Hainstock and Elvira Barbosa realized that they shared an interest in growing food. Jennifer wanted to eat healthy and organic, but realized growing food for one isn’t easy. Elvira longed to spend time in the garden growing vegetables as she had done as a child in Mexico, but she and her family live in an apartment and there isn’t room for much more than a few pots of tomatoes and herbs. A multi-family garden was a perfect solution. Noticing a vacant, clear, flat, sun-filled lot behind her shady property, Jennifer asked the landowner if she could use the land to grow a garden. With Jennifer’s water and the landowner’s enthusiastic permission, they launched into action.

Top photo: Jennifer Hainstock, Elvira Barbosa and Eduardo Barcenas in their multi-family Sonoma garden. Seated are Brian Barcenas and Angel Barcenas.

They found reclaimed redwood on Craigslist, gathered burlap bags from Taylor Maid Coffee, got wood chips from a tree trimmer and brought home old barrels from the winery where Elvira’s husband, Eduardo, works. Soon they were building six raised beds and new homes for an array of fruit trees and berry bushes and a slew of vegetables, herbs and flowers.

That first year, they both say, was a lot of work with many a lesson learned. But with a bit of elbow grease and some time spent in the library reading gardening books and attending Master Gardener classes, they got things growing well. Soon they were harvesting fresh organic food and enjoying conversations and meals in the garden.

In addition to building the raised beds, they also built a picnic table and benches to enjoy the summer evenings. Inspired and hungering for more knowledge, the two women took a field trip to the Edible Garden at MLK Junior High School in Berkeley where Alice Waters initiated a now-renowned school garden. Then they worked with Andrea from Quarter Acre Farm to put together a workshop at their own garden where others could also learn about backyard gardening.

It’s evident that the two of them are passionate about the garden and with Elvira’s husband Eduardo and their two sons, Angel and Brian, they make a weekend habit of tending the garden, swapping recipes and ever-deepening their friendship. Jennifer talks about how much she has learned from Elvira who, as a girl in Michoacan, spent her early mornings tending the family garden. It was there that she learned how to grow organically, utilizing natural systems to minimize pests and maximize yields.

What else have they learned? Jennifer says that Elvira has taught her to make the most amazing tomatillo salsa ever. Brian, Elvira’s ten-year old has learned the nuances of growing food and is excited to get started with a new batch of seeds they just bought. His favorite part? Eating fresh pesto made with basil that he’s grown. Elvira has learned the importance of engaging her family in tending to the garden. She loves that her two boys are learning how to grow their own food and that they appreciate the flavor of healthy fresh food. Upset by what she saw being served in school cafeterias, she not only wrote a letter to the school district but also became involved with the Sassarini school garden where she still helps out.

Take the 350 Challenge

All Sonoma County residents and organizations are invited to participate on or around the May 18-19 weekend, and should register their actions online at Incentives, such as one free yard of compost from Sonoma Compost, are offered to registered participants. The challenge is geared towards reducing carbon emissions and dependency on fossil fuel through thousands of household and community actions.

The challenge is an initiative of Daily Acts, a Petaluma-based nonprofit that provides education about a range of sustainable living skills, and is supported by iGrow Sonoma County, the Sonoma County Water Agency, the Sonoma County Department of Health Services, the Sonoma County Community Garden Network along with dozens of local community groups and businesses. Why 350? Climate scientists believe that 350 parts per million (ppm) of CO2 is the safe upper limit in the earth’s atmosphere to avoid the harmful effects of climate change. The number now had reportedly reached 400 ppm.