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Growing community one tomato, zucchini, watermelon, pumpkin, strawberry at a time

How a community garden is helping a church and its neighbors in Galt beautify a street and keep kitchens stocked with fresh produce

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Posted: Friday, August 10, 2012 7:43 am

Earl Arrants plucks a long green bean from vines that stretch to the sky as they twist around a homemade trellis. He  has already gone through his garden once, picking 3-inch-long Romano green beans and zucchinis, but he’s missed a few.

“Maybe one more day,” he says, pushing his way through giant leaves on a zucchini plant. He points out a green squash. It is just slightly smaller than the three he’s already picked and set aside to take home.

He steps over to the tall trellis he made for the green beans, picking one or two, but leaving most to fatten and lengthen just a tad more under the summer sun.

After his mini-harvest, Arrants will go home and feast on his bounty of peppers, squashes, tomatoes and green beans.

“They taste a whole lot better than the store,” he says, a big smile sweeping across his face.

Arrants is one of the Galt residents using the 31-plot Neighbors Community Garden that thrives on a half-acre provided by Galt United Methodist Church.

Once a dry, empty field, where 11-year-old Yoselin Ramirez would play soccer with her brothers and cousins, the garden is ripe with well-loved summer production. Golden heirloom tomatoes that pucker at the stem. Long ears of corn, sweet and ready to be picked. Watermelon that teaches its growers the art of patience. Eggplant with its shiny purple skin. Bulging yellow sunflowers that honey bees can’t resist. Tomatillos hiding in a pea-green casing.

Each of the 31 plots are unique. It’s obvious some growers favor tomatoes, while others have filled their beds with corn and squash. Some have organized gardens with raised beds; others are a little more random. Each person has a spigot for water, as well as a corner stake with names painted on the side.

In the last weeks of summer before school begins, Ramirez, whose family lives in the neighboring apartments, spends some mornings working in her family’s garden. The boys — some raking, others cutting weeds with shears, all laughing — work beside her.

They all agree, the lush garden is a lot better than the empty field.

“When I get bored, I come here,” said Ramirez, as she raked weeds from one of the raised beds.

For Ramirez, the best part is enjoying the sweet watermelon. And, she says, her mom likes having a big basket of tomatoes in the kitchen.

A gift for the community

The community garden is a group effort that started to take shape in May 2011. It was designed as a gift for the community, and to connect people to food, said Mike Eaton, a co-founder of Neighbors Community Garden. He has his own garden at home, and donates his produce to food pantries. He has been involved with community gardens in the past.

“My wife and I had a plot in a community garden when she was in law school in Davis,” he said. “We thought it was an attractive way to enable food production and healthy eating options.”

When the garden opened last year, there were 16 beds that nearby residents purchased for $25 for the year. Now there are 31.

Some are cared for by church members, others by neighbors who learned about the idea of a community garden when the church volunteers distributed information pamphlets throughout the area.

It cost about $1,500 for the plumbing and fencing materials to develop the garden.

A community effort

Community gardens have become popular in cities like San Francisco and Sacramento, providing people an opportunity to grow their own produce even if they don’t have the space or resources at their homes.

While many communities struggle to find a location for a community garden, the church had the ideal space.

With volunteers and community donations, it wasn’t long before people were able to plant their own seeds and taste of their fruit.

The Galt Historical Society donated lumber for the beds that was left over from a McFarland Ranch project. Liberty Ranch High School students studying agriculture distributed wood chips and planted fruit trees around the fenced perimeter. And church members raised $3,000 for initial costs.

The $25-a-year fee mainly covers water costs. The members planted their own seeds, though many gardeners help out their friends.

A tasty hobby

It’s up to the individual gardeners to keep their gardens thriving. However, there is an obvious partnership within the garden. When something isn’t growing like it should, everyone knows to call Eaton for help. If someone has extra seeds, they will share with their neighbor. When Anita Courtnier needs help eating her strawberries, the neighborhood kids are always there to help. She also helped Doris Brown rototill her plot early in the season.

Courtnier has been dubbed garden manager. She lives a couple of blocks away from the garden, and spends about four hours a day in the garden, several time a week. If she’s not tending to her strawberry patch or okra plants, she finds other things that need help.

“I’m an OCD weed-puller,” she laughs.

The garden gives Courtnier a chance to grow a garden her own way. At home, she lets her husband run the garden. She donates her Neighbors Community Garden produce to a weekly food pantry that helps feed families.

This is the first year Brown had a space in the Neighbors Community Garden. When a friend from the church told her about the garden, she thought the price was good and the plot was small enough for her to handle as a beginner.

“I’ve never been much of a gardener,” said Brown, who is growing several varieties of squash. “It’s just a nice hobby — and it tastes real good.”

Contact Lodi Living editor Lauren Nelson at



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