By James Wheeler, General Manager, Hayward Area Recreation & Park District
What does a park and recreation district have to do with food sourcing? Everything! Parks were created for not only leisure and recreational purposes, but to create opportunities to bring communities together to a safe place where fun has no boundaries.
Within built-out communities, and depending on where you live, it can be difficult to access fresh produce, let alone the resources, space and right eco-environment to grow them. Most people would not know where to begin, and that was why the Hayward Area Recreation and Park District (HARD) opened the Hayward Community Garden. It is a place where neighborhood residents can gather together at a park for a different purpose - to grow their own food. It is the perfect opportunity to promote interest in gardening, enable residents to supplement their diets with home-grown produce, and provide a physical space for community gardeners to learn about resource conservation, urban gardening, and related topics in a safe, enjoyable environment.
“HARD recognizes that food resourcing goes beyond growing produce. Our mission is to grow the connections with people and support a community with access to the outdoors and with each other.”
Jim Wheeler, General Manager
The district is comprised of a rich cultural diversity of people. Hayward and the surrounding communities make up one of the most highly diverse regions in the United States. The Hayward Community Gardens were started by a church group on another site in Hayward in 1977. When the group inquired with PG&E to use the current site, they needed a partner to hold the lease. That’s when they called upon HARD’s General Manager Bud Critzer who agreed to a 30-year lease and the nonprofit Hayward Community Garden to become the site operators. Many of the original growers were immigrant farmers representing a variety of countries and cultures, and the foods produces represent what is important to their families. The climate is perfect for growing a large variety of produce. The community farmers worked together to share knowledge and experience of growing traditional foods from their home countries. That tradition continues today with a partnership amongst growers to share knowledge to those who are curious to learn farming techniques and a couple of those original farmers are still on site. Foods grown on the site represent the rich diversity of the families who are growing them. A few original farmers are currently growing in the new garden. There’s also support by the U.C. Berkeley Master Gardeners who are providing classes and on-site tips for growing, along with nurturing a demonstration garden for the public to enjoy.
The gardens are in an area that consists of high-density housing with little or no green space or park facility. It is located in the Jackson Triangle area within the City of Hayward, California. Additionally, the area has limited access to food and stores, so fresh produce is also limited. This new garden now provides a large and accessible green space and places for people to socialize, barbeque and picnic, along with growing produce and botanicals in a shared space. The unique thing about this garden is that it serves a diverse culture and provides an opportunity for participants to connect with each other and share their backgrounds and histories while they come together to garden. The development of these gardens includes an area for educational opportunities for youth and families. The garden provides a wonderful opportunity for hands-on, science-based learning for students and their families.
The Hayward Community Garden is on 5.3 acres of land leased by PG&E to the Hayward Area Recreation and Park District for this project. The first phase of improvements consisted of seventy (70) gardening plots, each measuring approximately 400 square feet, for individual or shared use. As of this writing, the garden is full, with a waiting list of interested growers. Upon full implementation of the community garden master plan, the garden has the potential to provide up to 210 garden plots. The communal plot or gardening area allocates gardening space for cultivating vegetables, fruits, and ornamentals available for all gardeners to participate in the planting, maintenance, and harvesting through this managed program. Because HARD believes that everyone should be included, there is disability access throughout the garden. There are designated plots for those who need accommodations. The site has an irrigation system with hose bibs spread throughout the garden to provide water to the surrounding plots. Trees in the common areas are watered through the irrigation bubblers. A storage shed is provided with all the tools, supplies, and materials that the gardeners may use and share while they are on site. Compost bins are also provided to successfully manage any waste. The greenhouse is a unique area where group activities can take place for education and sharing. A zone for community socializing features a picnic area with barbeques, a “kiwi tunnel”, and a natural play area with art and a mural. Finally, there is an outdoor natural exploration area where kids can safely play as well as an open outdoor classroom area where youth can learn more about the importance of food, how it grows, and healthy lifestyles.
In the development of the project, green community garden practices were implemented such as using trees that were being removed from another park for benches, tree logs, and mulch. HARD received a small grant from the Natural Resource Conservation Service, which is under the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The grant focused on water conservation. In the development of the garden, features were added to address those issues. As water waste is the biggest issue for community gardens, measured valve and flow sensors were installed which allows us to shut down and closely monitor the water. It also allows us to close the water off when the park is closed. All water hose bibs have a flow restriction valve and key bibs which provides more control over water and less waste.
The Hayward Community Garden (Garden) project was funded by Measure F1 (Measure F1 is a $250,000,000 bond measure that authorizes funding for needed repairs, upgrades, and new construction projects to the district’s parks and facilities). Prior to the construction of the gardens, community meetings were held along with key stake holder groups, which included local gardening groups such as the U.C. Berkeley Master Gardeners and Hayward Community Gardner’s, and Hayward Neighbor Garden.
So, what advice would HARD give to other special districts? The first is to acknowledge and get excited around growing food as recreation, and it fulfills the mission statements of many parks and recreation districts. The need for community gardens increases when working within dense built-out communities within cities and suburbs. As housing density increases in the Bay Area, it’s a wonderful opportunity to work with developers to create growing spaces and outdoor areas for the community. Prior to the Garden opening, the former site was closed for three years. When HARD opened it up, it created a process for people to apply and participate, and the park is open to the public, which was not able to be enjoyed previously.
The Hayward Community Garden takes building a community resource to a whole new level. It encourages play and exercise with the natural outdoor exploration area. It induces self-directed recreation by giving gardeners free-range of choices in growing and maintaining their own produce. The Garden also facilitates social connections by bringing members of the community together to share in the practice of living a healthier lifestyle.