Zach Reidman and his partner moved from Maine to Oakland around five years ago. An important part of his relocation adjustment plan was finding a community garden, something that had been an integral part of his life back on the East Coast.
“The practicality of growing my own food is important to me,” he said. “It’s economical and definitely the freshest food I eat.”
Reidman is now the volunteer coordinator for the Golden Gate community garden where he planted his first Oakland-grown vegetables five years ago in a plot on 62nd Street. Reidman has grown anything the Oakland weather will allow, which in a Mediterranean climate means just about everything. He has fig, persimmon and apple trees, plus grapes and a wide range of annual vegetables from tomatoes to collard greens.
Over the last five years, Reidman has seen gardeners come and go, mostly young people in their 20s and 30s. “Some people sign up for a plot and come once,” he said. “Others have been here since it opened 15 years ago.”
As the garden’s volunteer coordinator, Reidman organizes monthly work days on the weekend during which volunteers take on weeding, composting and other gardening projects. He said it’s also a great way to get the neighbors involved and excited about community gardening. He estimates that less than half of the surrounding neighbors have plots in the community garden and the rest of the gardeners are from other neighborhoods.
Even though there are only 20 plots at Golden Gate—there’s a month-long waiting list for hopeful gardeners—Reidman said he wants everyone to feel welcome to enjoy the garden. The garden has a gate, but Reidman gives the lock combination out to neighbors who use the garden, and he posts information about community events outside the gate. “I’m trying to create an open gate policy,” he said. “It’s a philosophy that community gardens shouldn’t have a locked gate.”
Reidman said he thinks the city needs to create more community gardens, especially on vacant lots. “Having worked with underserved, refugee communities, I know there’s a really great demand to grow your own food,” Reidman said, “but it’s not often heard because it’s in languages that people don’t understand.”
Currently the Oakland Parks and Recreation office maintains ten gardens for the whole city. There are about 20 plots at each site, which means there are just 200 for approximately 40,000 Oaklanders.
“We are doing as much expansion as we can with our limited dollars,” said Dana Riley, assistant director for Oakland’s Office of Parks and Recreation. With community development block grants from the state, Riley said the city will be adding two new community gardens in the next year at the Allendale and Brookdale Recreation Centers, both located in East Oakland. These “kitchen gardens” will be based on raised-bed designs and will provide herbs and vegetables that participants in the recreation centers can cook with.
Riley said some nonprofits like Acta Non Verba Youth Farming Project and PUEBLO have also started to work with other Oakland recreation centers and schools to start up community gardens. (See Oakland North’s coverage of PUEBLO’s Youth Growing Oakland garden program here.)
Deb Janes lives five blocks away from the Bushrod community garden on 59th Street and Shattuck Avenue, where she’s had a plot for the last six years. In addition to the benefits of having consistently fresh food for her family and it being good for the environment, she said community gardening is great for connecting with people outside of her regular social circle. “We find ways to do what’s best for the community garden,” she said about the monthly meeting the gardening group holds. “It’s a platform to amplify your cool micro-ideas, like creating beehives or composting.”
Janes said she’ll try growing everything once. This year, she’s attempting to plant corn, which she’s been told is difficult to grow. But in the Bushrod community garden it seems like most everything is thriving, from the plum trees to the banana trees—they don’t produce fruit, but give the garden an exotic, tropical vibe.
For more information about getting involved with community gardening in Oakland, visit the Parks and Recreations website. Zach Reidman invites the public to attend Golden Gate community garden’s volunteer workday which will be held at 1068 62nd St on Saturday, July 16 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.