Everybody eats; it is one of the few things we all have in common. But, in some neighborhoods fresh produce and nutritious food are hard to come by. These areas, called “food deserts” by many, are one of the focuses of Santa Clara University’s Bronco Urban Garden initiative.
The garden is part of a two-pronged educational effort, which includes the university’s Forge Garden where community members can learn about and shop for fresh organic produce. The urban garden aspect of the program is an education tool at two San Jose schools: Gartner and Washington Elementaries, and the Forge Garden acts as a third site for the women of Homesafe, a local battered women’s shelter.
Established in 2009 by the Environmental Sciences Department, the project switched its management over to the Center for Sustainability in 2012. The program is staffed by a full-time manager, a part-time educator, three interns and between 10 and 30 volunteers. The Â½-acre garden hosts four beehives, six chickens, and a compost center.
Katharine Rondthaler, Forge Garden manager, said the garden, located at 1051 Shermen St. in Santa Clara, has four main objectives: production, education, research and social justice.
“We all need to eat, and we are all involved in these issues in one way or another,” Rondthaler said.
First, she said, both the Forge Garden and the urban garden focus on producing fresh, locally grown produce, which is sells at its donation-based farm stand located onsite.
The gardens’ second goal is education, teaching people of all ages how to maintain gardens even in a small urban space and educating them on different aspects of gardening, specifically organic gardening. Toward that end, Rondthaler said the Forge Garden hosts free monthly workshops on a wide variety of topics ranging from composting to beekeeping.
Another goal of the garden is research. Different departments ranging from the communications department to the engineering department make use of the Forge Garden for research, studying different aspects of gardening. Finally, the garden strives to create social justice through its efforts.
Lisa Martinez, Bronco Urban Garden educator, said the garden programs provide nutrition to marginalized members of the community who often only have access to processed food.
“They don’t have the produce in the supermarkets or the bodegas that is fresh or even there,” she said. “By bringing urban gardens, we are creating that option.”
Rondthaler said she is looking to have the garden expand and have a site at Homesafe.
In addition to its regular program, Martinez said the urban garden will offer a summer camp where kids can learn about different parts of a plant as well as what sort of animals inhabit a garden. Although the urban garden program is typically open to grades K-5, Martinez said, because the summer camp is in its first year, it will start out as K-2.
“There is so many different things we can do with the garden … there is nothing like watching kids grow arugula and try arugula,” she said
The next workshop, titled “Planting a bee-tiful Garden”, is on how to plant a bee-friendly garden. It will take place 10 a.m. to noon Saturday April 23.
The Forge Garden is open Monday through Friday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and offers kid-friendly programming Saturdays 2:30 p.m. to 4 p.m. The farm stand is open Fridays 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., but will be closed on Good Friday.