iGrow Sonoma encourages turning yards, empty lots into food production sites

Fed by a growing national fervor for vegetable gardening, a countywide movement has sprouted to conscript as many yards, public spaces and empty lots as possible into service for food production.

The "Grow Healthy Food" initiative, or "iGROW Sonoma," officially launched in February with a Web site, iGROWsonoma.org. It is serving as a cyber-meeting spot to share information and promote gardening efforts all over the county.

And with the spring planting season swinging in to gear, supporters are ramping up their efforts with a weekend planting blitz on May 15 and 16.

iGrow Sonoma


The "350 Garden Challenge" has a goal of planting 350 gardens in a single weekend.

"It could be something as large as ripping out your lawn and putting in a food garden or edible landscape, or it could be something as small as planting a fruit tree or putting a drip system into existing raised beds," said Beth Radko, a point person for the challenge.

Planting plans

In Sebastopol, a whole neighborhood is undertaking a "block garden installation," planting five to six ecologically designed gardens. The U.S. Coast Guard is sending out a crew to help prepare the soil, both in that neighborhood and at the Burbank Heights senior housing in Sebastopol.

And in Sonoma Valley, Nuestra Voz, a nonprofit that provides leadership development in the Sonoma Valley Latino community, has canvased the Boyes Hot Springs area, identifying households that want to put in gardens but don't have the resources or land.

"We'll connect them with some materials to do container gardens," said Erin Axelrod, a program director for Daily Acts of Petaluma, a major booster of iGROW.

Promoting gardening is in the interest not just of individuals who can grow healthy food for the plate, but also for government agencies grappling with issues of pollution and scarce resources, said Axelrod. Industrial agriculture is the largest contributor of greenhouse gas emissions, so switching to smaller production at a local level eases that, she said.

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