As a longtime San Francisco Bay Area resident, 91-year old A.P. has witnessed and helped our community adapt in response to many changes and crises. During World War II—when A.P. was in her early teens—the accompanying labor shortage meant farmers were having trouble getting their crops in on schedule. As a solution, students were invited to pick fruit from the orchards of rural California farms through programs such as the Harvest for Victory Corp. A.P. lived and worked as a harvester for two summers: she recalls climbing up a ladder to pick ripe apricots off of leafy tree branches in Sunnyvale, and on another occasion, wearing knee pads to collect plums off the ground in the sweltering Geyserville heat. The workers were paid 25 cents for each large box filled—though they were also charged for room and board at the end of the harvesting season. Harvesting was really about service and solidarity: A.P. has fond memories of a widespread sense of social responsibility and unity not only among harvesters, but throughout the San Francisco Bay Area during World War II. Everyone was looking for a way to contribute, and for A.P., that sense of social responsibility stayed with her throughout the rest of her life.
As a Garden Steward (or site host) in Each Green Corner’s Residential Gardening program, A.P. has become part of a community with mutual values.
I appreciate the social responsibility and generous natures of the volunteers [who help maintain her garden], and enjoy the chance to talk to interesting people.”A.P., Senior Garden Steward
Two of these “interesting people” include Heidi and Sam, EGC volunteers who regularly work on A.P.’s property: Heidi is a former GreenPeace volunteer and activist and Sam is a gardener by trade. The couple started volunteering with EGC to help provide essential services during the COVID-19 lockdown. Heidi says she appreciates the chance to support others directly through small-scale gardening. Similarly, Sam has enjoyed getting to know A.P., and told me that “it seems like she digs the idea of having a garden in her yard.”
Heidi has met A.P. several times when coming by to tend the garden, and describes her as “an open-hearted contributor to the community” who truly values seeing her land put to good use. Heidi takes pleasure in facilitating that experience for A.P., and feels that the Residential Gardening program in general helps older people feel more a part of their community—which she believes “is a big part of us coming together as a society in the future.”
To Heidi’s point, the current pandemic—like many global crises, such as war—has highlighted the need for healthier and more connected communities: pre-existing issues such as social isolation and food insecurity are exacerbated in the face of a lockdown. The sudden widespread awareness of these issues is certainly responsible for the surge of interest in home and community gardens, akin to the establishment of victory gardens during wartime.
For seniors, COVID-19 has been a particularly arduous challenge. High risk populations cannot access grocery stores regularly, if at all, and minimizing exposure to the virus necessitates social isolation, a problem that pre-pandemic disproportionately affected the elderly. Urban gardening programs such as those provided by Each Green Corner help mitigate some of the effects of a lockdown: gardening provides food and, if desired, social connection.
A.P., for example, told me that her barely two-month old garden is already producing far more vegetables than she can eat. She is host to 78 tomato plants of five different varieties, 45 jalepeno and poblano pepper plants, and three summer squash. Her garden provides her with regular fresh produce and enables to her favorite food – salsa! The produce A.P. doesn’t use is harvested by EGC and donated to EGC’s food distribution partner, Second Harvest of Silicon Valley.
Just two months after planting, EGC has already harvested more than 50 pounds of produce for donation from A.P.’s garden.
Moreover, as A.P., Sam, and Heidi can testify, working with EGC, whether as a Garden Steward, volunteer, or in an administrative capacity, is a fun way to meet like-minded people. Even during a pandemic, garden volunteers can safely work outside together following social-distancing protocols. Most importantly, the work we do as a result of a crisis—whether it is due to war, a pandemic, or any other major global change—will have long-term positive effects on our collective standard of living.
Written by Sarah Rinzler, Grant Writer