We all are aware of the increasing interest in home gardening and sustainable living. What is amazing is how fast the movement has grown. There are now countless opportunities to take classes in growing your own edibles, and all that goes with it including composting, drip irrigation and garden planning.
As a result of this, some people are finding that they have more than they bargained for. It's possible to have a garden that is too successful in that it produces more than a family can use. What many new gardeners don't realize is that even a small plot can produce a plethora of homegrown goodies.
Two friends who were dedicated to the sustainable movement decided to take action and do something to help spread the wealth. They came up with a simple straightforward solution that was elegant in its simplicity: share with your neighbors. Mill Valley residents Julie Hanft and Hilary Jeffris are friends and advocates for sustainable living.
After participating in the environmental forum of Marin's Sustainable Earth Forum, they went on to pursue their interest in sustainability by enrolling in the sustainable practices program offered at Dominican College and developed the Open Garden Project.
The Marin Open Garden Project was inaugurated in Mill Valley last May. Notices were posted and e-mails were sent inviting neighbors to take the time on a Saturday morning to meet and share the bounty of their home gardens. The turnout exceeded expectations, and the response was positive.
People met neighbors they hadn't known before. Old friends were reconnected and new friendships began. Fruits and vegetables were exchanged, and perhaps even more important, the seeds for new ideas and ways to expand the project were planted.
Have you noticed orange trees bending under the weight of their fruit this spring? Thanks to the gleaning program instituted by the project, the fruit need not go to waste. There are more than 60 volunteer gleaners who will come at a homeowner's request to harvest their excess fruits and vegetables. Apples, plums, oranges and grapes have been the most plentiful crops.
Volunteers will pick or gather downed fruit. The homeowner designates how much their family can use. The rest of the harvest is donated to Marin Community Food Bank or another organization of the homeowner's choice. A partnership with Homeward Bound of Marin has enabled the Open Garden Project to share the bounty with homeless families and adults across the county.
Because of the dedication of hard-working volunteers, including high school students fulfilling community service requirements, large crates of oranges have been donated to the Canal Alliance in San Rafael, and boxes of persimmons were delivered to the Ritter House in San Rafael.Ê
The project is also conducting an inventory of fruit trees in Marin County in order to estimate how many productive gardens there are in comparison with traditional farms in the county. All of the residences where fruit has been gleaned are mapped on a Web-based fruit tree registry. Homeowners are encouraged to go online to Marin Open Garden website and register their trees or orchards.
A seed library and seed exchange program is also being developed tailored to Marin's unique microclimates. Also being planned is a garden tool exchange program is to create a library of garden tools that can be donated and shared among neighbors and community groups. The group is also working to increase interest and participation in community gardens.
A new project this season will involve installing microgardens in homeowner's backyards. It is a jump-start program to help people get in on the backyard food growing and sharing movement. For a minimal cost, volunteers with the help of the homeowner will build 4-by-4-foot, wooden boxes for raised-bed gardens.
The Marin Open Garden Project's Web site www.opengardenproject.org provides a virtual, community bulletin board by posting notices of interest to home gardeners. Want-to-be gardeners can search to find a plot to garden on, or those with extra land can advertise available plots needing gardeners. Availability of resources such as compost, workshops and community activities are posted. A good list of gardening links and related subjects is also included.
The garden exchanges will start again in June across Marin. Look for the scarecrows designating the garden bounty exchanges at Boyle Park in Mill Valley, Creek Park in San Anselmo, Sun Valley Park in San Rafael, Bolinas Park in Fairfax, and the Next Key Center in Novato. Check the website for times and dates.
To find out more about the Open Garden Project, you can attend a meeting May 13 sponsored by Marin Master Gardeners at the Marin Art & Garden Center. At this evening session, Hanft will talk about how to conceptualize, organize and put into practice "creative community gardening." She will continue her work advancing the mission of Marin Open Garden Project by "encouraging sustainable living by reconnecting people with the land."
IF YOU GO
- What: Julie Hanft discusses Open Garden Project
- When: 7 to 8 p.m. May 13
- Where: Marin Art& Garden Center, 30 Sir Francis Drake Blvd., Ross
- Admission: $5
- Information: www.opengardenproject.org; 419-4941
The University of California Marin Master Gardeners are sponsored by UC Cooperative Extension. For questions about gardening, plant pests or diseases, call 499-4204 from 9 a.m. to noon, and 1 to 4 p.m. weekdays, or bring in samples or pictures to 1682 Novato Blvd., Suite 150B, Novato.