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.
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.
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.
And while gardens do use water, they are a more efficient use of irrigation water than lawns or thirsty ornamentals.
The larger goal is to eventually see "a garden on every block," or at least in every neighborhood.
Supporters want each community to have at least one higher profile model garden to showcase eco-friendly gardening techniques, from low-water-use irrigation to organics to greywater applications.
iGROW is similar to "iWALK Sonoma," which was launched last year to get people exercising. Both are projects of Health Action, a multi-agency consortium which the county Board of Supervisors formed to promote public health through a range of prevention and education programs. iGROW is aimed at improving what people eat by galvanizing them to start gardening wherever possible.
"We're hoping as more and more people touch and taste the experience of healthy fresh food, their appreciation for it will grow," said Ellen Bauer. She oversees the Health Action program through the department of health services' prevention and planning division.
Communities are jumping into the act all over the county.
"This is very exciting for us. We're looking for even more community gardens. We have one at the senior center and one at the high school," said Cloverdale Mayor Carol Russell, who is a member of the Health Action Committee.
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