Keep Bakersfield Beautiful Blog for 2012 Keep America Beautiful/Lowe’s Community Improvement Grant for $5,000
Keep Bakersfield Beautiful (KBB) community garden projects grow hope in the hearts of volunteers who live in neighborhoods known to struggle with crime. KBB is honored to be an instrument to transform nearly a combined 37,000 square feet of space in these blighted neighborhoods plagued with burglaries, gang activity, and graffiti. Armed with an arsenal of contributors, including an invaluable $5,000 Keep America Beautiful/Lowe’s Community Improvement grant leading the way, KBB is empowered to cultivate community leaders through the creation of community gardens. This KAB/Lowe’s grant was the metaphorical seed money to build momentum for the Greenfield Walking Group Garden and A Fresh Start Garden in Southeast Bakersfield.
The Greenfield Walking Group has been a group of concerned families and friends for several years. They started out being a bunch of moms who took strolls together with their children. They first began to make a presence in the news when they took the lead to motivate community improvements around a dilapidated neighborhood park surrounded by gang activity. They spearheaded the change and reclaimed the park as a family-friendly space. Years ago, KBB began working with the Greenfield Walking Group regularly to clean up litter and graffiti in the neighborhood. Our commitment to improving it together expanded into an Adopt A Neighborhood program, which included the potential for community gardening and beautification projects in the future. Well, the future is now. KBB and the Greenfield Walking Group hope this community garden will be a 15,600 square foot safe zone for neighbors to enjoy together for the betterment of their community.
More than 250 pairs of hands from as close as next door to as far as Lincoln, Nebraska have happily gotten dirty to make this garden beautiful. Some volunteers come for a day, others are core members who were there from brainstorming to planning to planting – all are valued, all are necessary. Some of the outstanding volunteers who are not a part of the Greenfield Walking Group are Dora, a Russian immigrant who resides in one of Bakersfield’s most affluent enclaves, has become the unofficial project manager, Dora’s star volunteer is Jason, a 13 year old who lives in a mobile home park several blocks away, and 54 blessed volunteers from Nebraska, some of whom believe divine intervention brought them to Bakersfield to finish building the Greenfield Walking Group Garden.
The Youth of Messiah Lutheran Church of Lincoln, Nebraska travels annually to do mission work, but they weren’t scheduled to do service in Bakersfield. The youth group got a disappointing last minute phone call right before 54 of them were to fly out to help another non-profit in a tiny rural town 98.7 miles North of the Greenfield Walking Group Garden. The caller told them not come because of a terrible intestinal flu outbreak. Since their plane tickets weren’t refundable, the Youth of Messiah Lutheran Church came to California anyway. They went to a Lutheran church in Bakersfield and asked for suggestions for a new missionary project. That’s how they found us. It became a news story and sponsors stepped in to support the mission work, which in turn provided a boost in manpower and funding to finish what we thought would be future phases of our garden project. Thanks to them we have creatively painted block-walls surrounding two sides of the garden; crop rows planted with a variety of food from sweet berries to spicy chilies; spikey flowers along the fence for added security; and raised beds for herbs. When the youth got back home to Nebraska, they emailed us to say they never worked as hard, never had so much fun doing mission work, and believe that God sent them to the right place after all.
The Greenfield Walking Group Garden is building a sense of community that stretches beyond its immediate neighborhood. Their love for their community and passion for a healthier lifestyle attracts an outpouring of support from the Lowe’s two miles away from the garden. Lowe’s and its vendors like Bonnie Plants and Duarte Trees and Vines are vital to the sustainability of the Greenfield Walking Group Garden, because they offer their expertise in growing with invaluable onsite visits, as well as needed products.
The Greenfield Walking Group Garden is about six miles away from A Fresh Start Garden. Both neighborhoods were pleasantly surprised to see a beautification project happen in an area where residents often feel overlooked or undervalued. A Fresh Start garden is proud to be led by African-Americans in a predominately African-American neighborhood. A Fresh Start Garden has more than 21,000 square feet available to grow and to host community events organized by the neighboring anti-gang organization called Stop the Violence.
The harvest festival and ribbon cutting ceremony was a Halloween alternative block party for families and neighbors. Thanks to this KAB/Lowe’s grant, Keep Bakersfield Beautiful was able to buy the necessary garden tools and lumber to finish 16 adoptable plots and the fence in time for the garden to open. The garden manager, Isaiah, is a former Keep Bakersfield Beautiful board member who has experience with community gardens. A Fresh Start Garden’s neighbors are key partners in the sustainability of this project too. St. Paul Church next door provides electricity and water. Plus, Stop the Violence across the street helps to raise funds and organizes the community.
Together our groups empower more than 100 volunteers for A Fresh Start Garden, litter cleanups, and outreach. A Fresh Start Garden is in the center of a walkable neighborhood with a severe litter problem – the worst in Bakersfield. Volunteers often have to clean up litter when tending the garden. The litter is a constant battle because it blows in past the fence. But the greatest challenge A Fresh Start Garden faces is earning the trust of the neighborhood in order to engage them. Stop the Violence and the Neighborhood Watch Program agree that working with a suppressed population that has lost hope in the goodness of others while dealing with substance abuse, gang and gun violence, and a lack of education makes it very difficult to draw the community to take part in the garden. Community events are a way to raise awareness to build that trust. Stop the Violence also says that many in the neighborhood lack motivation to use resources like A Fresh Start Garden rather than just rely on public assistance.
Trust is being earned though. Neighbors who have been introduced to the garden are very thankful for it. Stop the Violence and Isaiah’s Sober Living clients were working in the garden on a rainy day pulling weeds when children passing by noticed them. The children were curious and asked a lot of questions of what was going on there. The kids smiled when they learned it was a community garden. The kids asked if they could come and garden too. Of course Stop the Violence invited the children to come back with their parents. Since then, several plots have been adopted. There’s been a 12.5% increase in neighborhood participation since 2012, according to Stop the Violence
This Keep America Beautiful/Lowes grant opportunity blazed the trail for Keep Bakersfield Beautiful, Stop the Violence, and the Greenfield Walking Group to uplift two communities in need of help. This grant was the kindling to a grass roots fire. Now both gardens have the support of several administrators, volunteers, technical advisors, other grants and sponsors, and the City of Bakersfield. Together we strive to make a safer and more beautiful Bakersfield. We have much gratitude for Keep America Beautiful and Lowe’s for being there in the beginning to make these thriving community gardens possible. Thank you.