Wildflowers have blossomed in Pleasanton's unfinished educational community garden and farm and while city leaders say funding might be an issue for completing the overall project design anytime soon, the gardeners behind the project said the fact that the soil is laid out is already a win in itself.
"While it might not look like much now -- although I have to say the wildflowers are spectacular ... Eventually, we will have garden plots for our residents to reserve and grow their own food," Pleasanton Mayor Karla Brown told a crowd of roughly 30 people during the community garden's debut kick off event on Monday.
The Bernal Park Community Farm is a project that was first introduced in 2006. Pleasanton voters ratified the Bernal Property Phase II Specific Plan through the approval of Measure P in 2006, which included a land use plan separating the property into multiple sub-areas.
That plan, which added projects such as the oak woodland trails, playgrounds and turf sports fields to the park, also included the call for a community farm and garden -- an effort that has been led by the University of California Master Gardener Program of Alameda County since 2016.
And while the pandemic and funding for designing and constructing the space have delayed the project's timeline over the years, city leaders along with volunteers and members of the Master Gardener program were finally able to celebrate the cover crops that were planted having bloomed.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, these are crops that are usually established and grown in the fall to increase the quality of the soil.
"This is a big project," said Dawn Kooyumjian, program coordinator for the Master Gardener program. "It's taken a long time to get to this point and there's still a big project ahead of us. However, where do you start? You start with the soil."
Last September, the group had received funding from the Pleasanton City Council to get started with a "Phase 0" stage of the community farm master plan. This initial stage of building the farm includes the master gardeners planting the cover crop.
The goal behind the cover crop was to enrich the soil at the 1.2 acre garden, which is located at 550 Laguna Creek Lane, so that the gardeners can start planting the educational gardens.
For Kooyumjian, it was an emotional day to be able to see the flowers growing and to know that, despite having a long way to go before the public garden and farm is fully functional, the metaphorical seed for the project has taken root and is finally materializing into reality.
"It is absolutely amazing," she told the Weekly. "It's just, to me in some ways, mind boggling, because it's been something that we've been working on for so long. Any project that takes that long has its ups and downs, and this is the big up here."
She also said that it is especially exciting because of the fact that the gardeners are a group of volunteers that train individuals in the science and art of gardening and so having a space like the demonstration garden in Pleasanton will help teach residents ways to grow their own food and maintain gardens by using water saving techniques.
"It is a garden to demonstrate best practices on all things that are in the Master Gardener mission," Kooyumjian said. "The Master Gardener mission is to provide research based knowledge and information on home horticulture ... integrated pest management and sustainable landscaping practices."
Sheila Barry, director for University of California Cooperative Extension programs in Alameda County, told the Weekly that research-based education is the main goal of not just the Master Gardener program, but for the overall UC extension program, which overlooks the gardener program as well as others such as nutrition education.
"Our goal is to take research-based information from the university and connect it to our communities for improved sustainability, for improvement to support agriculture, to support community health and well being," she said.
The extension program is connected to the land grant university, which is land given by the federal government to the states to provide outreach and education to the community through federal, state and local support. Barry said that in California, the universities connected to this program include UC Davis, Berkeley, Riverside and Merced.
"We are in every county in the state, and we do applied research and outreach and address the local community needs," she said.
She said that with growing concerns and issues about protecting water, land and food sources along with addressing climate change, resources like the community garden and farm in Pleasanton will offer residents a chance to ask questions and be able to get answers based on local research tailored to their region.
Judy Matthew, who has been a volunteer with the Master Gardeners since 2010, told the Weekly that the educational resource for the community is very important and she's happy to see it finally come to fruition after such a long time of planning.
"It's been frustrating that it took us eight years ... because the demonstration garden is very important to involve the community and the kids and show them what they can grow and how to grow," Matthew said.
She said that spaces like this are very important because you can show people in real time how to tend to gardens, which not only helps their pockets and health, but also the overall environment
She and Sarah Lee, who is one of the more recent volunteers, having started in 2022, said that it also provides a space where they can answer specific questions that residents in the area might have that are specific to their region in terms of growing plants in the Tri-Valley weather.
"Somebody else who lives close by and they're crop didn't go this year, we can actually explain well, it's been a wet winter, it's a cold winter that failed because of that. Now, what do we do from this point forward? How do we amend the soil? How do we incorporate StopWaste compost to enrich the soil?" Lee said.
The future plans for the 5-acre site includes garden plots that residents can rent, an educational center to train people on gardening skills and the community garden that will offer educational opportunities through workshops.
While the timeline of completion for the garden and then overall community farm is still up in the air, due to the several phases to the project, Brown said that the city will do all it can to educate residents about environmental sustainability.
She added that one way the city is helping with cutting back on its waste is through a free composting hub that is conveniently located at the garden site -- and that while the city offers that, it will be looking at outside funding or grant opportunities to pay for designing and completing the full garden and farm.
"It's expensive," Brown told the Weekly. "We're gonna have to be in economic status with the city where we can afford this kind of program or we're gonna have to look at other funding sources, which is what we do all the time. We're always looking for funding sources and grants for things like farming that support farming and growing your own healthy food."