By Mike Kinney
A new victory garden in Richmond built with the help of local youth will one day provide fruits and vegetables to disadvantaged communities.
On Wednesday, Groundwork Richmond, tasked since 2010 with improving the city’s environment via community partnerships, and its Green Team, a group of local students engaged in service-learning opportunities, were busy putting the finishing touches on the garden located behind the City of Richmond Park and Recreation Administrative Building at 33rd Street and Macdonald Avenue.
The garden has 13 beds approximately 6 feet long, 3 feet wide and 4 feet deep. Growing there are zucchini squash, cucumbers, black and blue berries, raspberries, peppers, melons and eggplants along with herbs such as basil and lemon thyme. And tomatoes too.
“We’ll harvest enough tomatoes to have own version of doing ‘La Tomatina’ (Tomato throwing festival),” said Jayson Johnson, Director of Field Operations at Groundwork Richmond.
For the past year, Johnson, a Richmond resident and independent filmmaker, said his organization has been collecting small donations from lumber yards and local nurseries to make the victory garden. Despite the recent spike in lumber costs, three lumber yards stepped up: Ashby Lumber, which provided a $2,000 donation to purchase supplies and lumber, and also Channel Lumber and The Lumber Baron, which donated a significant amount of lumber for the project.
“It’s been a long journey but we’re finally seeing some vegetables and also have the lumber to create a wall around our garden,” Johnson said.
Groundwork Richmond has used the city yard space for 11 years. Johnson saw an opportunity to use the objects that have been left at the site from Groundwork and city projects.
“I saw our space needed to be organized and began to re-imagine ways the leftover object could be repurposed into functional items for our use,” Johnson said. “Using a combination of leftover wood, wood, tarp and some concrete barriers we’ve been successful in creating an arbor with seating, the garden and picnic area. In the future we hope we can also build a small greenhouse and a learning center for our staff and the kids in our Green Team program.”
Eight youth from the Green Team built the community victory garden from the ground up to help address hunger in Richmond. They’ve been led by Groundwork Richmond Head Gardener Andrew Avina, age 19. The garden “wouldn’t be anywhere without Andrew’s leadership and dedication,” Johnson said, adding, “I may have written to companies about donations, but Andrew is really the one who’s made the garden come to life.”
Groundwork Richmond plans to donate the fruits and vegetables to families that grow in the garden to people in need within disadvantaged communities.
“Many people have a connection to poverty here in our community and don’t know where their next meal is coming from,” Avina said. “We are using this victory garden to help contribute food and to deal with hunger that needy families are facing daily.”
Johnson said the victory garden provides further opportunity for youth members of its Green Team.
“I personally feel this experience gives youth the insight, experience and the means to become self-sustaining persons,” Johnson said. “Learning about urban forestry is a life skill they can take with them wherever they go. Who knows perhaps one of these kids will become the next great green engineer whose idea could feed thousands of people. The sky is certainly the limit and my hope is this garden could be a small spark in that process.”
Johnson said he doesn’t think of “victory” as an end goal or singular event.
“Sure, it may be defined that way, but to me the victory is an ongoing process applied to a person, place or thing; and this garden is no different,” Johnson said. “Our victory garden is an ongoing, evolving place where fruits and vegetables will continue to serve the community while educating our Green Team youth.”
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly indicated that the U.C.-Contra Costa County Master Gardeners were making a donation toward the victory garden the day the Standard visited. In fact, they use the city yard to store tools and supplies.