by Lorie Lewis Ham
During this time of year we like to feature groups who are making a difference in their community. While looking for such a group this year I found The Community Life Garden, just outside of Reedley. Interested in what exactly they do, I chatted with the Executive Director of Community Life Garden, David Gonzalez.
KRL: What exactly is the Community Life Garden? What is its purpose?
David: CLG’s Vision and Mission is to establish and maintain a position in the region as a sustainable community garden non-profit that benefits local communities by promoting healthy lifestyles, self-reliance and community giving through gardening activities and education programs, and by coordinating networking and social events that build community relationships and inspire people to help others in need.
KRL: When and how did it get its start? What inspired the idea?
David: We started outreach in 2015 holding meetings in Reedley, Orange Cove and Dinuba to see what interest existed in community gardening. Our garden land is located centrally between these three towns.
We discovered several needs among those communities that we could help through gardening. While Fresno and Visalia have local gardens, no community gardens open to the public exist among these towns.
We obtained enough interest and support to hold our Land Clearing event in October 2015. We formed our Board and became a 501(c)3 nonprofit in January 2016.
I visited several community gardens in Fresno, Visalia and Hanford. They are nice places to stop by and stay for a while. They encourage you to garden and engage with people. If you have never visited the Garden of the Sun in Fresno, I greatly encourage you to go. You will be inspired!
KRL: How and why did you become involved?
David: My wife and I offered three acres of land for community garden use. We are both retired and believe this is a great purpose. As the land owner, I also get to donate the use of my tractor and other tools for the garden which I love!
KRL: What do you offer the community?
David: Our community garden offers opportunities for individuals, families and community groups to volunteer. We have regular family gardening days where volunteers are always welcome to help us with our projects.
We offer gardening education workshops for our community gardeners and the public. We want to ensure a successful planting and harvest. We also have experienced community gardeners to guide you through the growing process.
Community garden membership to the nonprofit is also available at $25 per year. It helps us to continue to provide our gardening services to the community. Members get first priority in having a garden plot for a season.
We also have Garden plots available for families and school groups to adopt for the 2018-2019 growing seasons. There is no cost for the first year as long as you volunteer to grow the garden.
KRL: What is the Food Giving Program?
David: It’s clear there’s hunger in our area along with high poverty rates. We found five organizations in our area alone that do monthly food distributions. In addition, as gardeners we grow more than enough that we can always share. We also have community garden plots specifically for food donations.
Food Giving is part of our purpose and inspired us to create a formal program. This year we harvested garden oranges in February, greens in April, tomatoes and chilies in May, and squash, zucchini and other vegetables throughout summer. Also for this year, we have donated more than 550 pounds of produce to local food pantries.
KRL: How many people are involved?
David: Many people are involved at different levels. There’s myself and our Board Chair and Board members. We are all from this area and have a passion for gardening. We generally meet monthly in Reedley. Please let me know if you want to join us.
Our community partners are also involved and often join us at our meetings. Champions for Change and the Master Gardeners of Fresno County have been with us from the beginning.
Then we have our volunteers. Some adopt plots, some come for community service, and others come for our events. We are eternally grateful they come to our volunteer events because they help us build our garden. We often get 15 to 30 per event depending on the month.
Our volunteers come from surrounding communities and from local schools. This includes students from Reedley Middle College High School, Reedley FFA HS, and Orange Cove HS. We have even gotten volunteers from Caruthers!
Our volunteers work tirelessly at our garden and because of them; we now have 25 garden plots. As such, we were pleased to thank those that have volunteered 12 hours or more towards the growth of our community garden at our October 27 Appreciation Day BBQ.
We also have our community gardeners. These folks normally have families that have adopted a garden plot. Often they come together to water and weed. The best time for most is when they harvest together.
KRL: How can someone get involved?
David: People are welcomed to get involved in many ways. You can volunteer at one or more of our garden volunteer events. We have volunteers that have showed up repeatedly to our events. All our volunteers work hard and together we have started quite a garden.
You can adopt a garden plot. It’s work, but the benefits are fantastic. You get exercise, close to nature, and you get vegetables at the end. We have individuals, families and groups that have adopted garden plots. We have a teacher and her students from a TL Reed After School Program that have adopted a garden area.
You can also be a local donor and supporter. We have been very fortunate with the support from some local businesses. Our garden lumber, bricks and soil come from local businesses.
You can also join us as a member with a $25 annual donation. Most of our funding comes from donors and grants, but membership helps us to provide our programs.
You can also follow us on Facebook. It’s great to be liked and followed, but we also love when you’re personally involved in gardening or come out to volunteer.
We also offer Gardening 101 Workshops. We believe in the importance of education so we developed workshops. We offer these workshops before the growing season starts.
KRL: What kind of workshops do you offer?
David: Our Education Program consists of Gardening 101 Workshops, one on one with new gardeners, and partnering with local schools, like TL Reed’s After School Program, to provide gardening education. Some people that come to our workshops don’t have plots at our garden. That’s okay. Their passion is still gardening.
Each season, we offer a workshop with content applicable to the season. For example, for the Spring season, we focus on specific plants and preparations for your garden area. This year we had a workshop in March and another in September. Our Master Gardeners put the workshops together and each time offer new and interesting tips. Our partners, Champions for Change, have also done healthy eating and easy cooking segments during our workshops.
KRL: I notice you mention cooking classes in the future on your website-can you tell us about those?
David: It’s our vision to partner with local restaurants and chefs to hold healthy cooking classes. It’s an effort to promote healthy eating using the produce we grow at our garden. We’re still looking for partners.
KRL: Do you have any events coming up yet this year?
David: Our last event for this year is a Holiday Succulents Workshop coming up on November 10. We had a few requests to do a workshop where people can learn to decorate their holiday displays with succulents.
Our calendar normally begins in March with a Gardening 101 Workshop and a separate Volunteers Day at the garden. We also did our first harvest events in February and April 2018. Our volunteers benefited as well as our local food pantries. We had our second Gardening 101 Workshop in September as well as another Volunteers Day. We were pleased this year to also hold our first Family and Volunteers Appreciation Day in October. We did some light planting and had a BBQ. We also thanked our volunteers with Certificates of Appreciation. Finally, we’re having a Holiday Succulents Workshop on November 10.
As you can see, we were busy for 2018. Our 2017 calendar was similar. We are working on our new Calendar for 2019. We hope to post it soon.
KRL: Where are you located?
David: We’re located at the corner of Crawford and Manning Ave. Our Google address is 22899 E. Manning Ave., Reedley. We are centrally located about five miles from either Reedley, Orange Cove and Dinuba.
KRL: Can people just come out and check it out?
David: The garden is open to visitors during our volunteer events. Our community gardeners have access to tend to their garden plots or when they come to water. People are welcomed to contact us for a tour or a visit and we can arrange to be there. We tend to keep it secure other times.
KRL: Why do you feel that this is important to the community?
David:The American Community Gardening Association (ACGA) recognizes that community gardening improves people’s quality of life by providing a catalyst for neighborhood and community development, stimulating social interaction, encouraging self-reliance, beautifying neighborhoods, producing nutritious food, reducing family food budgets, conserving resources and creating opportunities for recreation, exercise, therapy and education.
Given our area’s high poverty rates, low-income levels and food needs, we hope to help address some of these needs in our community through our garden activities and programs. With the support we have received from volunteers, donors and supporters, we hope we can continue.
KRL: Do the gardeners keep the food they grow or just grow it to give to the food programs?
David: The gardeners can keep all the produce they grow. Some share with family and friends. Other gardeners grow for themselves and to donate to the food giving program. We also have community plots that myself any other board members maintain. Most of the produce from these plots are donated. We also have several orange trees that we harvested this year and donated most of the oranges to a Reedley Food Pantry.
KRL: Future plans and goals?
David: Our first priority is to ensure water sustainability. We need to upgrade our water access systems to be able to convert to a water saving drip irrigation system. As we expand our garden, our water needs will increase. Hand watering takes a lot of effort right now, especially in the Summer!
We want to add more garden plots and structures for our community gardeners and visitors to enjoy. Once we get our water access upgrades, we can expand. We can create more garden plots and garden structures.
We want to get to a level of sustainability where we can continue to provide our current gardening programs and create new ones. We can only do this by continuing to look for grant opportunities and funding opportunities that will help us with our capital development needs.
KRL: Anything you would like to add?
David: I believe in servant leadership. I retired as a director from the City of Long Beach, California. For almost 26 years, I managed and led a variety of organizations. I use my skill set to bring together people for a common purpose. As the Executive Director for the garden nonprofit, I support the Board and serve the people who want to create a sustainable community garden.
My wife and I are also from this area. I graduated from Reedley High School, went to Reedley College and graduated from Fresno State. Most of my wife’s family lives in Reedley and Dinuba. We have roots here.
You can learn more about the Community Life Garden on their Facebook page.