Vacant lots in North Richmond turned into gardens


In what used to be a vacant lot in North Richmond, hands and shovels and a big pile of mulch are bringing people together.

"We're coming here to make it better," said project manager Iyalode Kinney.

A small plot of land on Third Street in North Richmond is where wooden planters have replaced trash and liquor bottles and community organizers are teaching people to grow their own food.

"We decided, why don't we do some kind of program where we can take over these lots, be responsible for the garbage on them and plant healing gardens for the people," said Kinney.

Kinney is the project manager at the Lot of Crops Community Garden. She's part urban farmer, part teacher, part administrator and a full time problem solver.

"We have all day sun, so we can grow watermelons, tomatoes, cucumbers, pumpkins, all kinds of peppers, lots of herbs, edible flowers - we can grow pretty much anything," said Kinney.

North Richmond is an unincorporated area that's among the poorest communities in Contra Costa County. Growing crops on the Lot of Crops property is free -- though there is a one-time $10 charge for a key to the lock on the gate that surrounds the property. Organizers say it also puts a positive face on a community known for violent crime.

"This is very important to North Richmond to show that these are some of the positive things that are happening that youth can do. There's more than just them standing on the corner. They can come in the garden and work and it brings the community closer together," said community activist Johnnie White.

It also provides fresh produce in a community that lacks a grocery store. The Lot of Crops project is funded through a $56,000 grant from fees paid by a local landfill transfer station to offset its more unpleasant aspects. They're already at work on another vacant lot on Vernon Street -- one of seven spots being prepared for planting.

"You know I don't care who we are, what color we are, what religion - all of our ancestors did this and we need to go back and incorporate it into our lives," said Kinney.

Eventually, it's hoped they will all look like the 'Peace Garden' at 1st and Nevin in Richmond. About 20 people grow everything from corn to edible flowers there -- enough food to share the bounty with lots of others.

"Something about the dirt relaxes me, so I know it will relax everybody else," said White.

They're asking for more money this year in hopes of eventually building 35 of the small gardens -- one every five blocks.

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