By Paula Urtecho
Even in the best of times, the bay area can be a difficult place for families to make ends meet. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, many people have found themselves without livelihoods and perhaps facing food insecurity as a result. The Watershed Project decided to take on the specter of food insecurity that many in the communities where we often work might be facing.
With our own programming sidelined by the shelter-in-place order, we wondered what we could do to help our partner communities during this unforeseen crisis. Drawing on inspiration from other challenging times in our nation’s history, like during the World Wars, “war-gardens” seemed to make sense. These productive gardens were encouraged as a civic duty of every citizen during war time. People answered the call both to ensure their own food security as well as to cultivate something beautiful and useful in a time of great uncertainty, like we face today. In so many ways, this seemed like the right thing for us to focus our energy on – engage people in a worthwhile activity during this difficult time, get people outdoors (in the safety of their own yards), engage bored children who were stuck at home, and put some healthy food on the table (without having to brave a trip to the grocery store). The timing was right – Spring is a perfect time to start planning a vegetable garden. Now, if only we could find some seeds or plant starts!
It turns out we weren’t the only ones thinking about vegetable gardening – the entire bay area had the same idea and seeds and starts were scarce! By fortuitous chance, I came across an email from the UC Master Gardeners of Contra Costa County saying that they would be donating vegetable starts to local organizations since they could not hold their annual “Great Tomato Sale”. I contacted them and explained who we were and what we intended to do and without hesitation, they generously offered to donate vegetable plant starts to us! Simultaneously, The Watershed Project had pivoted to celebrating Earth Day virtually, with online programming including YouTube videos on home gardening topics. A subscriber brought our videos to the attention of Richmond Grows Seed Lending Library, a seed preservation organization whose mission is “to increase the capacity of our community to feed itself wholesome food by being an accessible and free source of locally adapted plant seeds, supplied and cultivated by and for Richmond area residents.” We realized our missions were perfectly aligned and formed a partnership to get seeds out into the community in our “Vegetable Garden Starter Kits”
It was inspiring to see how organizations with a common cause could come together so quickly to help our neighbors in impacted communities during this time of crisis. As a result of the partnership between The Watershed Project, UC Master Gardeners of Contra Costa County and Richmond Grows, 35 families in the North Richmond and Rollingwood communities were able to start gardens of tomatoes, peppers, bush beans, and herbs. We added soil and pots, so that even recipients who had limited yard space would have whatever they might need to get their gardens started. All who received a kit were very grateful and happy to embark on a summer of productive gardening and healthy eating!
TWP will continue to reach out to families in need and help them to be resilient during this time of crisis. In addition, we will be expanding our online gardening tutorials to include content in Spanish. Subscribe to The Watershed Project Channel to stay on top of all the great content we plan to produce in the coming months!
Stay well, friends!