Roseland's Bayer Park: Community gathers over farming and food
Bayer Farm, an urban farm in the heart of Roseland, has grown into a multicultural and multigenerational oasis that nurtures healing hope, dreams and community along with squash, corn and beans.
“Wild turkeys come there, musicians come there, and community festivals happen there,” said Craig Anderson, executive director of LandPaths, a conservation nonprofit. “It’s like a field of dreams. If you build it, they will come. ... and they do.”
Launched more than 10 years ago by LandPaths in partnership with the City of Santa Rosa, the urban farm not only provides open space and organic produce to local families but over time, has grown into a social hub for residents who want to gather together, recharge and reconnect with each other, whether rolling masa into balls or digging holes.
“Kids are our favorite people,” said Jonathan Bravo, a former math teacher who works for LandPaths as the Bayer Farm garden coordinator. “More than growing tomatoes, we are interested in raising the community and bringing people together to have an interaction with open spaces.”
Every Friday evening, the residents of Roseland and beyond gather at the farm for a potluck by the red barn. There may be eight people or 80, but there is always a global array of aromas rising from the picnic tables under the walnut tree.
“The short lady from China comes with her big bowl, and the Vietnamese come with their soup, and the Eritrean people with their bread, and the Mexican ladies make their tortillas,” Bravo said. “We have many diverse communities in the garden. There are 14 ethnicities, including Congolese, Eritrean, Indian, Peruvian, Chilean and Brazilian.”
The farm encompasses a wide range of learning opportunities based around a small demonstration vineyard, a native plant garden, a UC Master Gardeners plot, a chicken coop and an extensive orchard that has started bearing fruit. There also will be goats to adopt in the near future.
“We are an organic garden, and all our practices are with permaculture,” Bravo said. “We are teaching people how to improve their garden practices in order to have clean, organic food. ... We are also teaching people how to grow food all year round.”
This year, LandPaths received Measure O funding to support all of the farm’s youth programming, including in-school, after-school and summer programs. There are three schools adjacent to the farm, and two more within a few blocks.
A bookmobile provides fodder for iREAD Outside, an early childhood literacy project that is part of the county’s iREAD campaign. LandPaths has launched a nature book drive to help the reading needs of kids this summer.
Bayer has been so well-received that it’s serving as a model for another park: the soon-to-open Andy’s Unity Park, a collaboration between Sonoma County Regional Parks and Roseland residents. The new park, still under construction, is located at 3399 Moorland Ave.
Although Andy’s Unity Park community will have its own identity to reflect the Moorland neighborhood, it may be able to replicate some of Bayer Farms’ successes, said Bethany Facendini, community engagement manager for Sonoma County Regional Parks.
“For example, bilingual programs focused on integrating health, environment and culture will be developed based on community input,” Facendini said. “Together with LandPaths, Regional Parks anticipates leading both place-based programs at Andy’s Unity Park and outdoor adventures at other parks.”
The community garden at Andy’s Unity Park will be only an eighth of an acre, and 16 families have already signed up. The 21 plots there are smaller than at Bayer Farm, but the garden could expand if there is more demand.
“Andy’s Unity Park could be a really wonderful, healing spot,” Anderson said. “That’s what land used to be.”
Bravo agrees, noting that the Moorland neighborhood’s isolation makes the park even more necessary for residents than Bayer Farm.
“At least Roseland has stores, schools and churches,” he said. “Moorland has nothing. ... The park will be a center. We are doing outreach right now for volunteers.”
Adjacent to Bayer Farm, the Bayer Neighborhood Park & Gardens opened a year ago on 4 acres of the original 6-acre property at 1550 West Ave. The parcel was sold to the city in 2007 by Edmund and Lillian Bayer, farmers who had raised cows, sheep and pigs on the land for some 60 years.
Back in 2006, in an effort to make LandPaths more inclusive, Anderson came up with the vision of launching an urban farm in Santa Rosa. Mark Richardson, who was Santa Rosa’s assistant city manager at the time, shared his vision and together they started looking at land.