What is a community garden?
A community garden is a dedicated urban agricultural space where community residents can come together to foster community and grow food. The collective efforts of the gardeners results in a sum - the garden - that is greater than each of the individual parts. Deeply rooted community connections are among the primary fruits of the gardeners’ labor. Through the process of working and sharing together, garden members learn from the knowledge, skills and abilities each person brings to the garden. (adapted from Denver Urban Gardens)
Mesa Verde Gardens’ community gardens are comprised of many separate garden plots that are tended by individuals or families. Several of Mesa Verde Gardens’ community gardens combine an assortment of individual plots complemented by small fruit tree orchards, herb gardens, and/or expanses of plants and shrubs planted to attract beneficial insects and butterflies. Our typical gardener’s plot typically measures 12’x15’ and may be used to grow fruit, vegetables, herbs, medicinal plants, and/or ornamental plants according to the gardener’s preferences.
Shared spaces - pathways, perimeter areas, perennial herb and flower beds, sheds, and gathering spaces - are cared for by all garden members. The day-to-day operations of the garden, such as new gardener enrollment and organization of community workdays and events, are handled by volunteer Peer Leaders. Peer Leaders are experienced gardeners who step up to assume these additional responsibilities.
With whom does Mesa Verde Gardens work– who are its gardeners and partners?
Mesa Verde Gardens prides itself on being inclusive, diverse, democratic, and supportive of community involvement. Gardeners may be of any religious and cultural background, age, level of gardening experience, educational level, and income status. At Mesa Verde Gardens, we prioritize garden space for low- to moderate-income adult heads-of-households living within walking distance of the garden who lack space at their residence to grow food or are prohibited by residential rules from doing so.
In terms of our gardeners,
46% are female; 54% are male
86% are Latino; 4% are Mixtec; 6% are Caucasian; 2% Asian/Pacific Islander; 2% mixed/other
87% self-report to be living on very low incomes (i.e., <$16,243/year for individuals; <$27,724 for a family of three)
80% of gardeners have at least one farm worker in the household
51% are newborn-20 years old
42% are 21-60 years old
7% are over age 61
Approximately 80% of Mesa Verde Gardens’ gardeners have returned to garden with us year after year.
We know the following relevant details about our gardener population from the 2013 Community Assessment Project’s oversample of adults in the Pajaro Valley, A Glimpse of Reality:
- 75% of Pajaro Valley adults (vs. 55% of adults in the rest of Santa Cruz County) and 49% of children registered BMI indicating they were overweight or obese
- 20% of Pajaro Valley adults (vs. 14% of adults in the rest of Santa Cruz County) have been diagnosed with diabetes or pre-diabetes
- Twice as many Pajaro Valley adults (28% vs. 14% of adults in the rest of Santa Cruz County) reported their overall health status as “Fair” or “Poor”
- 63% of Latino vs. 26% of White households were living below Self-Sufficiency Income Standards (SSIS) at the time of the 2014 CAP Survey; 23% of Pajaro Valley households reported income of $15,000 or less, as compared with 9% of households in the rest of Santa Cruz County
- More than twice as many Latinos (16% vs. 6% of Whites) were unemployed at the time of the 2014 CAP survey
- In the year preceding the 2013 CAP survey, nearly twice as many Pajaro Valley households (8% vs. 4% of households in the rest of Santa Cruz County) reported going without food; three times as many went without rent; and two and a half times as many went without utilities due to insufficient household funds
Our community partners:
We currently garden on land owned by several churches, including All Saints Episcopal, First United Methodist Church, and Lutheran Community Churches in Watsonville and the United Methodist Church of Santa Cruz. Mesa Verde Gardens has a Memorandum of Understanding with Pajaro Valley Unified School District (PVUSD) that enables us, in consultation with PVUSD staff and school principals, to establish community gardens on property owned by the school district, which totaled approximately 500 acres as of July 2015. In 2015, we partnered with the City of Watsonville and elected officials to establish 27 raised bed garden plots on a vacant lot donated for our use by the City.
Pajaro Valley Community Health Trust, a longtime funder that promotes improved health and well-being for residents of the Pajaro Valley, currently serves as our fiscal sponsor. To fulfill our mission, Mesa Verde Gardens also collaborates with organizations that share our commitment to supporting individuals and families to achieve food security and build self-reliance. These groups include Life Lab, Food What?!, the Community Agroecology Network (CAN), Watsonville Film Festival, Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History (the MAH), and the City of Watsonville Department of Public Works & Utilities. We participate in the county-wide Go for Health collaborative. Our gardens also host researchers and visiting scholars from University of California Santa Cruz’ Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems (CASFS) and allied departments at the University.
How many gardens does Mesa Verde Gardens coordinate?
As of August 2015, Mesa Verde Gardens coordinates seven community gardens (6 in Pajaro Valley, 1 in the Live Oak unincorporated area of Santa Cruz County) and three community orchards (2 in Pajaro Valley, 1 in Live Oak). These gardens involved approximately 220 member gardener families.
What are the benefits of community gardens?
Community gardening improves people’s quality of life by producing nutritious food that people grow according to their dietary preferences; reducing family food budgets providing a catalyst for neighborhood and community development; stimulating positive social interaction; encouraging self-reliance; beautifying neighborhoods and instilling a sense of community pride; linking people with the land and our natural world; conserving natural resources; and creating opportunities for recreation, exercise, therapy, and education. Community gardens encourage communities’ food security, allowing residents to grow their own food or for others to donate what they have grown to fellow community members in need. Advocates say locally grown food decreases a community's reliance on fossil fuels for transport of food from large agricultural areas and reduces society's overall use of fossil fuels used in agriculture, as community gardening is typically not machine intensive. In this way, community gardens may help alleviate multiple effects of climate change while dampening the repercussions of a projected global decline in agricultural output, which will make fresh produce increasingly unaffordable and threaten food security more generally. In addition, because Mesa Verde Gardens is community-led and functioning, with teams of Peer Leaders taking responsibility for the day-to-day management of each garden, the gardens offer a place for building and enhancing natural leadership capacity in the community and provide a forum in which people can influence decisions that affect their own and their family members’ daily lives.
What is required of Mesa Verde Gardens’ members?
Each gardener pays $8 per month to cover the costs of ground rent and water for his/her plot. She is expected to adhere by the Garden Rules, which require that gardeners install drip irrigation systems or hand water using watering cans and refrain from using toxic pesticides (i.e., that they garden organically). Gardeners also agree to contribute two hours of labor during the season to complete garden upkeep projects, such as maintaining fences, building a compost pile, refreshing wood-chipped pathways, or completing end-of-season garden clean up.
What can or do gardeners grow?
Each gardener may choose to plant whatever flowers, fruits, grains, or vegetables he chooses in his garden plot. We have gardeners that plant their entire plot in maize, tomatoes, or tomatillos. Others who plant diverse vegetable and herbs: zucchini, pumpkins, onions, melons, all types of peppers, a variety of fresh and dried beans, cilantro, mint, basil, verbena . . . Each plot reflects the particular gardener’s distinctive passions and culinary interests.
Our records indicate that, on average, gardeners harvest approximately 40-50 pounds of fresh produce from their plot each week from early June through late September. Beginning in the summer of 2015, between late July and the end of September we also expect to harvest a few hundred pounds of apples, pears, and various stone fruits from our community orchards.
Will Mesa Verde Gardens be expanding?
YES! Mesa Verde Gardens has already secured seed funding from Pajaro Valley Community Health Trust and the Community Foundation of Santa Cruz County to establish two new community gardens in 2016. We are in the initial stages of identifying the sites for these gardens.
How can I (or my neighbors) start a community garden?
YES! If you live in the City of Watsonville, the steps for launching a community garden are laid out in the City’s Community Garden Guide. If you live in Santa Cruz (city or surrounding vicinities), contact the Parks & Recreation Department at firstname.lastname@example.org or 831.420.5270.
If you have questions or need assistance, contact us at email@example.com.
How are the gardens sustained?
Mesa Verde Gardens has four primary sources of support: members’ fees; financial donations from individuals; in-kind donations of goods and services from businesses and community members; and foundation grants. One-tenth of our revenue comes from member gardeners, each of whom pays approximately $40-$48/year in membership dues that cover the cost of water and supplies during the summer growing season. Revenue from foundations comprises approximately 70% of the organization’s annual operating budget. We have received extremely generous consecutive general support grants from the Appleton Foundation, and project funding to launch new gardens from the Pajaro Valley Community Health Trust, the Community Foundation of Santa Cruz County, Driscoll's, and a few generous individuals.. The remaining revenue comes from by individual donations. To donate to Mesa Verde Gardens, click here.
How can the community support Mesa Verde Gardens?
We rely upon community support to do our work: to help us with major garden projects or contribute essential behind-the-scenes administrative skills; to serve as ambassadors for our efforts; and to contribute resources that cover costs associated with maintaining and replacing equipment and infrastructure and building new gardens. To discuss ways to contribute, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
 The SSIS provides a more comprehensive measure of income adequacy than Federal Poverty Thresholds (levels) by taking into account housing, childcare, health care, transportation, food, taxes and miscellaneous costs, as well as economic differences between counties. A single adult in Santa Cruz County would need to earn $14.16 per hour in 2014 in order to be self-sufficient. A single adult with a teenager and a school-age child would have to earn $25.01 per hour to be self-sufficient.