A Brief History
Community Garden Program: 2011-ongoing
After hearing from preschool parents about their lack of a place at home to grow food for themselves, Mesa Verde Gardens launched its first community garden in spring 2011. This garden, Pajaro Valley’s first community garden, involved 30 low-income families working land leased on the basis of a handshake agreement with a local church pastor. Each family had their own 12’ x 15’ plot in which to grow their own preferred types of organic produce, cultivated in the manner they choose. Success stories from this site quickly spread to new neighborhoods, and the community demanded more garden plots. By 2012, demand and successful fundraising resulted in program expansion to two new sites, also on land owned by churches. Membership grew by 50 families. In 2013, the 82% retention rate of garden members prompted staff to start our fourth community garden at the County Fairgrounds site, growing membership to 110 families. In 2014, we launched a 50-family community garden in the Live Oak neighborhood of Santa Cruz, our first project outside of Pajaro Valley. In 2015, in response to demand, we launched three new community gardens: two under a negotiated Memorandum of Understanding with Pajaro Valley Unified School District, enabling us to start community gardens at two middle schools in low-income neighborhoods, and the third established in collaboration with the City of Watsonville adjacent to a city park in a crime-ridden and poverty-challenged neighborhood. Currently, there are more than 250 member families participating in MVG’s community garden program, with a new garden involving 50 more families launched in April 2016.
Community Orchard Program: 2012-ongoing
In 2012, a conference session on community orchards at the American Community Garden Association’s annual conference inspired MVG’s Director to gain Advisory Board approval to negotiate a long-term lease on a half-acre owned by Lutheran Community Church, which already hosted one of our community gardens. Following a successful Kickstarter campaign in 2013, MVG’s Director and 50 community members planted 65 young fruit trees to be tended, harvested, and shared by MVG’s member families. In 2014, we planted smaller community orchards adjacent to our two largest community gardens and hired a part-time (.1FTE) Orchard Manager to safeguard the health and productivity of our 125 fruit trees. In 2015, we celebrated the first edible harvest of 12 varieties of apples and a few different types of pears from Pajaro Community Orchard.
Peer Leadership Development: 2013-ongoing
Peer Leadership Development (PLD) is at the heart of MVG’s long-term success. Teams of garden members from each site complete a 12-hour training designed by MVG staff and led by a local bicultural/bilingual leader with deep community connections who holds a Master of Social Work degree. The training aims to build communication skills that promote leading through democratic decision-making and inclusion. Trained Peer Leaders form teams at each site and provide new member orientation, gardening and nutrition education, leadership for community projects, and meeting facilitation. They serve as site liaisons with the Director, keeping her apprised of enrollment and issues that arise. This grassroots leadership model spreads responsibility and greatly strengthens each garden’s internal structure and viability.