San Jose: Urban farm connects people to each other and the earth
By Leeta-Rose Ballesterlballester@community-newspapers.com
POSTED: 03/04/2015 06:00:51 PM PST0 COMMENTS| UPDATED: ABOUT A MONTH AGO
Bellasia Moussaoui, 5 1/2, feeds greens to chickens in the Youth Garden at Veggielution Community Farm. On Saturdays, the Youth Garden is open between 10-12:30pm for families to come learn about garden maintenance, do projects and games, harvest greens to feed to the chickens, and then come together for a potluck lunch.
When walking through the rows of 2-foot-tall dinosaur kale and lush bunches of cilantro–dodging chickens and peacocks along the way–it may be easy to forget Veggielution is in the center of San Jose, but the looming cement pillars holding up nearby freeways are a reminder of what makes it an “urban farm.”
The juxtaposition between the bustling Highway 680/101 interchange above and the quaintness of the community farm is striking, but it also part of what makes Veggielution successful, says co-founder Amie Frisch.
“It’s so accessible to everyone,” Frisch said, pointing out the vast network of bus lines and roads that lead to the farm. “We’ve worked hard to create this warm, welcoming environment. San Jose is a diverse place, and we have a pretty good cross-section of that diversity here.”
Photo Jacqueline Ramseyer/Bay Area News Group/Feb. 24, 2015Freshly picked and washed lettuce at Veggielution Community Farm waits to be boxed for CSA
Photo Jacqueline Ramseyer/Bay Area News Group/Feb. 24, 2015 Freshly picked and washed lettuce at Veggielution Community Farm waits to be boxed for CSA customers.
Retired community members, school groups, churches and residents from all walks of life traverse to Veggielution, located near Story and King roads to tend to the farm, turn the earth and build a sense of community.
“This is the place where everyone is mixing together,” she said. “Connecting with the land–and each other–gives people a sense of place.”
When Frisch and a group of other San Jose State University students wanted to start a gardening club eight years ago, they looked to the community first, asking if anyone was willing to open their back yards for a small vegetable plot.
They were surprised that so many people were willing to give the students a piece of land. The students, whose experience with farming was limited to gardening with parents, were also surprised at the difficulty of getting things to grow.
“We picked a back yard and got started; it was trial and error,” she said. “It was about figuring it out together. Everyone’s ideas were valuable, and it was about the connection through agriculture.”
Photo Jacqueline Ramseyer/Bay Area News Group/Feb. 24, 2015Volunteer An Ngo (left), a student at De Anza College, and Farm Manager Will Chen harvest
Photo Jacqueline Ramseyer/Bay Area News Group/Feb. 24, 2015 Volunteer An Ngo (left), a student at De Anza College, and Farm Manager Will Chen harvest parsley on a beautiful Tuesday morning at Veggielution.
The gardening friends group soon grew and so did their produce and space–they were tending to four backyard gardens, she said, and the vision was getting bigger and bigger.
“We wanted a larger space so we could invite more diverse groups of people,” Frisch said. “We thought maybe we would be lucky enough to find a vacant lot.”
A friend tipped the group to a plot available at Emma Prusch Farm Park, a 47-acre site bequeathed to the city in 1962 by native San Josean Emma Prusch, who had wanted the old dairy farm land to remain a rural place of relaxation.
“Our jaws dropped; we couldn’t believe this land was available,” Frisch said. “It turned out that the city’s goal for education and engagement aligned with what we wanted to do.”
Since reaching an agreement with the city of San Jose to farm the land in 2008, Veggielution has slowly expanded into a six-acre endeavor for anyone who wants to get their hands dirty.
Among the groups who till the land, plant the seeds and pull relentless weeds from the farm, are members of AmeriCorps, such as Emily Schwing from New Jersey.
“There’s something about being outside and touching the food you’re eating,” she said, as she dug her fingers into the soil on a crisp Tuesday morning. “It’s relaxing. The process of being in the dirt … it’s grounding.”
She said that working the land is a great reminder for volunteers that food doesn’t just come from the grocery store–there is a lot of work involved.
Photo Jacqueline Ramseyer/Bay Area News Group/Feb. 21, 2015Isis Chu pulls weeds around towering stalks of kale during a Saturday volunteer day at
Photo Jacqueline Ramseyer/Bay Area News Group/Feb. 21, 2015 Isis Chu pulls weeds around towering stalks of kale during a Saturday volunteer day at Veggielution.
In the past year, about 3,200 hours of work was put into the urban farm, said Frisch, adding that it’s “incredible to see how many people have invested time.”
Tadashi Oguchi, also an AmeriCorp member, said he appreciates being able to give back to the community with his work on the farm.
“I love that we provide CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) boxes to surrounding neighborhoods which can be considered a food desert,” he said.
FRESH AND FLAVORFUL
As fields are harvested, volunteers and staff carefully wash each piece of cabbage, chard or other produce to pack up in boxes for neighbors or to sell at the Saturday farm stand. Fresh eggs and honey are also at the ready.
“Our goal is to provide organic produce to those who need it,” said farm manager Will Chen as he sorted stems of cilantro. “We try to educate about food and environment while we’re here.”
Chen said there is lots of thought placed into what to grow and an attempt to cater to local community flavors.
Cilantro is grown instead of parsley, for instance, and certain types of cabbage are used more in the community, he said.
Veggielution distributed more than 20,500 pounds of free produce to the local community in 2013 through connections with soup kitchens and other agencies serving homeless people in the San Jose area, such as Inn Vision.
Farm boxes and the farm stand produce are available at below-market prices, and anyone who helps harvest can take food home, too.
Through community interaction and engagement, Chen said he hopes to expand the farm and make an impact.
“I just feel like we can make this happen here; there are not many urban farms this big,” he said. “When I put my effort into it I get to see something that wouldn’t happen otherwise.”
Volunteer hours are Tuesday, Thursday and Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., followed by a potluck community lunch. Families can visit and work the youth garden on Saturdays.
The farm stand, located at 647 S/ King Road, is open Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., accepting cash, debit, credit and EBT. Visit veggielution.org for more information.
San Jose: Stone Church of Willow Glen partners with Veggielution to bring back orchard feel
By Leeta-Rose Ballesterlballester@community-newspapers.com
POSTED: 01/28/2015 06:02:12 PM PST0 COMMENTS| UPDATED: 2 MONTHS AGO
Gone are the days when cherry and apricot orchards sprawled across San Jose, but the Stone Church of Willow Glen has partnered with the nonprofit Veggielution so that fresh, locally grown fruit can make a comeback in the community.
The church has donated funds for the purchase of 20 fruit trees that will be planted at Veggielution’s community farm and education center at 647 S. King Road.
“On a regular basis we provide food and clothing to the needy, but we were looking for a long-term solution,” said Virginia Holtz, a member of the Stone Church for more than 30 years. “It’s a sustainable program.”
The big planting day is scheduled for Feb. 7. A variety of dwarf trees chosen for their ability to grow in San Jose’s climate and soil type were selected.
“The fruit trees provide a program that can support the community,” Holtz said. “We see it as more access to healthy foods.”
The six-acre urban farm stands in juxtaposition to the bustle of cars zooming by on nearby highways 101 and 680. Rows of fruit trees and vegetables and a small group of animals like chickens and a sow give a glimpse of what much of San Jose looked like once upon a time.
Community members pulled from schools, South Bay companies and other organizations, as well as families and other volunteers, all pitch in to maintain the garden and enjoy the harvest.
The goal isn’t just to supply produce but to educate and advocate for healthy living while gardening.
“It’s raising our awareness and building bridges,” Holtz said. “This is an effort to reach out to another part of the city–and to give the gift that keeps on giving.”
For more information about community farming at Veggielution, visit veggielution.org/volunteer.