Urban gardens gain momentum

September 2, 2008 7:47:20 PM PDT
Rising food prices are just one factor behind a trend gaining momentum in the Bay Area. Urban farming is taking root on several fronts as more people grow their own produce.

Beyond an ordinary wooden gate in Palo Alto is an extraordinary oasis. While it's beautiful to look at, Candace Simpson designed her backyard for productivity. There's peppers, eggplant, strawberries, squash, tomatoes and the list goes on.

"There isn't a single vegetable I've grown that doesn't taste better having come out of the garden. It cooks faster, it's sweeter, it's more tender," said master gardener Candace Simpson.

Simpson is among a growing number of urbanites savoring the flavor of their own organic produce. They find space wherever they can. In her case, even Candace's front fence is an edible weave of fruit trees and future meals are sprouting from seed.

"I'll be able to stand back and eat from this bed all winter long," said Simpson

The urban gardening trend is fueled in part by high food costs and a desire by many to reduce their carbon footprint.

Worldwatch Institute reports the average meal travels 1,500 miles from farm to plate.

"If we subtract the amount of miles food travels by growing locally, we can reduce our fuel consumption and fuel consumption directly contributes to the price of food," said Conexions executive director Susan Stansbury.

People who live in apartments or simply don't have a yard are turning to community gardens. It's generally public property ranging in size from half an acre to three acres, divided into dozens of plots.

The city of San Jose operates 18 community gardens serving nearly 900 people. The concept is so popular, there's a waiting list of nearly 500 people eager to dig in.

Ramon Lopez pays San Jose $90 a year to cultivate a plot about 20 feet by 30 feet. He says every year he grows far more than he can eat.

"All for my family, no sale, only for family and my buddies, my friends," said Lopez.

The bounty pales in comparison to Silicon Valley's rich history. The futile land once known as "The Valley of heart's Delight" has long since given way to housing.

And yet there's a movement to bring back a balance. With the help of a non-profit, East Palo Alto Charter School teaches it's students farming and in the process healthy eating.

"We can eat strawberries and grapes and tomatoes all from the garden that we made ourselves," said 8th grade gardener Lexus Julian.

In Sunnyvale, the Santa Clara Unified School District set aside 11 acres of land. It could have become a condo development but instead, the outdoor classroom is called Full Circle Farm -- a nod to the valley's past and future.

"Two-and-a-half acres are in production this year which is our first year of harvest and what we are trying to do is grow as much as possible for the school district and community," said Full Circle Farm director Liz Snyder.

From school yards to backyards, urban agriculture is taking root. Simpson hopes what many call a revolution continues to bloom.

"If you pick even one or two crops that you know your family enjoys and you start raising those crops, you will have made a contribution to sustainability," said Simpson.

Candace warns the results can be addicting.


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