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Touring Sonoma County's 'guerrilla' gardens

  • Suzanne Lang of Santa Rosa, waters her plot of vegetables at a community garden on Mendocino Avenue in Santa Rosa on Saturday. (KENT PORTER/The Press Democrat)

An immense zucchini and piles of green beans graced a small table Saturday at the Mendocino Community Garden in Santa Rosa's Junior College Neighborhood.

A bribe perhaps?

Visitors to the garden and 21 other community gardens around Sonoma County were being asked to vote on a People's Choice winner, one of four awards at stake during what was dubbed the first annual “Grateful Bed” Edible Garden Tour showcase.

But the largesse of gardeners at the corner plot on Mendocino Avenue and Benton Street suggested no one was interested in buying votes but instead wanted to extol the virtues - culinary and social - of joining the community garden movement.

“Just to see the color out here....” said Brian Long, whose house is kitty corner from the garden. He used to look out onto uncut weeds until they were cleared last fall and he found himself learning to grow food.

“All I know is it's neat to see people out here,” he said. “You get to know your neighbors better.”

“We are all just kind of guerfilla gardening - gardening in your face,” said Jeff Jones, who has a nearby plot where a recycled grape vine serves as a trellis for runner beans.

Sonoma County Regional Parks and iGROW, a county collective that encourages edible gardening and healthy eating, organized the self-guided tour. The intent was to bring attention to the potential for food production, community building and sustainable landscaping in common spaces, said Christina McGuirk, an education specialist for the park system.

Many of those who turned up at gardens on the tour were gardeners themselves, looking for ideas or just checking out community gardens in the area.

Pat Chance, who stopped to tour The Sunflower Garden across from the Catholic Charities shelter at Seventh and A streets in Santa Rosa, made note of bottomless buckets half-buried around individual tomato plants.

The approach, lead gardener Andrew Errera said, helps keep water from spreading beyond the roots.

Errera said the garden, run by Social Advocates for Youth, or SAY, benefits the homeless family center across the street. So far this year, the garden has provided nearly 200 pounds of produce, he said.

Chance said the social ethics at play in so many community gardeners - some set up to provide food for the needy or opportunities for low-income residents to grow their own food - is one reason she was interested in checking out some of the gardens Saturday.

“The whole concept of helping community is good,” she said.

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