Sowing the Seeds of Hope, Cooperation at Lafayette Community Garden

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Posted May 11, 2022
Sowing the Seeds of Hope, Cooperation at Lafayette Community Garden
Lafayette Community Garden co-founder Janet Thomas (second from right) with gardening team members Regina McGrath, Shirley Sigal, Jeanie Hill and Sue Scholtz. Photo Sharon K. Sobotta

When Janet Thomas and the gardening team began planning the Lafayette Community Garden nearly a decade and a half ago, they were planting the seeds on something much larger than growing soil. “It’s a cooperative garden. We work as a team and collaborate,” says Thomas. “We love to see anyone in the community come whenever we’re open and we’d like that to be a resource.”

On a drizzly April morning, weeks before Earth Day, several members of the gardening team are on hand to complete their tasks while working in their respective teams, alongside Thomas, who is co-founder and responsible for the work in the garden. Regina McGrath, a 10-year member of the Tomato and Summer Crops team, says community garden gardening is a team sport. “I like to come here, turn off my phone and be at peace.” Eight-year-old member Shirley Sigal says she most enjoys watching nature work its magic. “Watching things grow (that’s the best part).” Jeanie Hill says she is proud to contribute to the flower team. “My job is to grow flowers for pollinators.”

Sue Scholtz is a fifth-generation Californian who has Central Valley farmers on both sides of her family. “I think it’s in my blood to be here watching the plants grow,” Scholtz said. As a member of the Wednesday watering crew, Scholtz says she enjoys being alone in nature with the plants, keeping an eye out for the real-time effects of drought. When asked where the drought is taking us, Scholtz is optimistic. “It brings us to a good spot today because it’s raining here,” Scholtz said. “Today I have high hopes.”

Thomas says this type of teamwork not only serves the plants and well-being of the garden, but also the well-being of the community itself. “The sense of community that’s fostered here is something we all benefit from and we certainly did during COVID.”

Planning for the garden began in 2008 and the garden officially opened 11 seasons ago. Whether you’re looking to get in the dirt and plant, breathe in the fresh air, hang out with chickens, see cultural artifacts, or learn how environmentalism and the garden relate to issues of social justice, Take or leave a food donation in the pantry in front of the garden – which is located on Mr. Diablo Boulevard across from the tank – there promises to be something for you at the garden.

During a visit, Thomas shows not only vegetable plants, but also elements inspired by cultures and countries around the world, a children’s picnic area, a chicken coop and a nature trail behind the garden which leads to a handmade teepee. As we walk, Thomas explains that neighbors in the area have provided leftover artifacts from the Miwok tribe, while acknowledging that we are walking on Miwok land. “We learned that Lafayette was one of the most populated Miwok areas in the whole country due to the climate and the richness of the ecosystem,” Thomas says, pointing to Lafayette Creek. “Native Americans were (believed to be) here until the late 1700s when they were sent out on the missions and by the early 1800s most of them were gone. We believe thousands were here .”

Although a formal land acknowledgment has not been officially executed, Thomas says this is something that will be explored in the future with input from a tribe and potential collaboration with schools. “We hope to work with public schools in the future to develop a curriculum. We want to be sure to include Miwok voices in this process.”

Thomas also proudly displays the more than 120 name tags that belong to 85 active families in the community who are members of the garden. “We like people getting to know each other while they’re here,” Thomas says. Memberships cost $100 per person per year and $150 per family, but no one is turned away for inability to pay. “Anyone working in the garden can come in to pick up produce at the end of a working day or they can come in any time they want peace and quiet,” says Thomas. “Or they can bring home the harvest that’s in our harvest bin at any time.”

Part of what inspired Thomas to help bring this garden to life in Lafayette was the magic she experienced teaching environmental science at Acalanes High School. “It really brought me down to earth. I created an outdoor classroom right next to Lafayette Creek. Lafayette is full of rich ecosystems,” says Thomas. “What I get is not only an incredible sense of community and groundedness, but also the knowledge that I am on a creek that looks very much like it has for hundreds of years here in Lafayette. “, said Thomas.

“Now more than ever, in our culture, at this time in history, we need grounding to bring us back to values ​​that are important to nurture our souls, to nurture our planet, to remind us of the natural rhythms that are so healing and so important,” says Thomas. “You have more enthusiasm to help the environment if you’ve been exposed. One of our missions is to give this exposure to the community. We want it to be a place where members of the community can remember how important it is to live simply, to be attached to those (natural) things that are important.”

For those wondering how much of an impact a community garden has in creating a healthy planet or if it’s worth it, Thomas says it absolutely is. “I think it’s important for everyone to do what they can and keep hope alive.”

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