DANVILLE -- When Amelia Abramson was a sophomore at The Athenian School in 2010, her class toured a local food bank -- a visit she will never forget.

Not only did it bring home the problems of hunger and poverty in and around the well-to-do communities of Alamo and Danville, where she lived and attended school, but she was alarmed by what she and her classmates "didn't see."

"There was absolutely no fresh produce," she said. "During the tour, a food bank employee pointed to an area and said: 'This is where we would usually have fresh produce' -- and it was just shelves. It was just kind of emptiness."

Amelia came home that night and began "ranting" about the situation to her mother, because "it was just not OK," she said.

Amelia Abramson, left, and her mother Heidi, have their photo taken in the Bounty Garden at Hap Magee Ranch in Danville on Dec. 20, 2013. Both crusaded for
Amelia Abramson, left, and her mother Heidi, have their photo taken in the Bounty Garden at Hap Magee Ranch in Danville on Dec. 20, 2013. Both crusaded for and created the Bounty Garden that was built with the help of volunteer Scout Troops and community members. All the produce grown by the volunteers is donated to food pantries. (Doug Duran/Staff)

Her mother, Heidi, was struck by the irony of it. That year, there had been a bumper crop of tomatoes everywhere, including her backyard garden.

"We were drowning in tomatoes, and everyone was lamenting that there was all this food and wondering what to do with all of it," Heidi Abramson, an architect, said.

That experience gnawed at Amelia for months. When she had to come up with a junior year community service project for school, she thought: why not find a way to somehow tackle the problem -- and "think locally."

For months, the mother and daughter brainstormed ways to fill the gap at the food bank.


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Eventually, they hit on a simple solution with a twist: the creation of a community garden. In contrast to many community gardens, in which gardeners grow produce for their own tables, this garden would only allow volunteers to grow food to be donated. All of the organic produce would go to the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano in Concord, to feed the area's poor, hungry and down-on their-luck.

More than three years later, the garden built at Hap Magee Park Ranch is just finishing its first year of production -- just as Amelia, now 19, is in her sophomore year as an art conservation major at Pitzer College in Claremont.

According to her mother, Amelia had thought that when she first proposed the garden, "by graduation, she'd be growing vegetables at the garden and happily achieving what she wanted to in about a year. That's not how it worked out -- but for a good reason."

They needed to get approvals from the town of Danville and Contra Costa County first. "They had never seen anything like this, so we just needed to kind of just prove to them that the project would work and we respect what they have here," Amelia said.

Bounty Garden now has about 80 volunteers who donate time to grow crops based on a list of vegetables the food bank needs most.

Kellee Reed, of Danville, is a member of "the Hive," a nine-member board, including the Abramsons, that supervises the garden's efforts. She said that the many levels of community involvement is what makes this project so special.

"The Eagle Scouts helped to build it, the kids of Athenian School came to move dirt, and it was through word-of-mouth we got our first volunteers," she said. "And it's just so interesting to see how, as a grass-roots effort, it has taken off."

Eric Schneider, 56, of Alamo, a volunteer gardener, said the garden is extraordinary because it's a unique way to make a difference, and it helps develop strong bonds with other gardeners. He said the program has inspired him to get a Master Gardener license.

"To me, the concept is so good, because of instead of just giving money, it's actually growing the food" for those who need it, he said.

The Abramsons are thrilled to see how their project has grown and helps bring the community together, because gardening alone can be so "isolating," and they want to build "circles of gardens" in the community, they said.

"When you come out here, when everything is hustling and bustling, there are 80-year-old people working in one corner helping out the 16-year-old kids and the middle-age mothers on other ends, it's community-building," Amelia said.

The garden's first year yielded 3,000 pounds of produce -- which is a lot, considering they mainly consist of low-weight, leafy vegetables, Heidi said.

The nonprofit also plans to add a donations drop box, so anyone can leave fresh produce for the food bank. In addition, its board members plan to help cook food at area shelters.

Both mother and daughter acknowledge that their modest garden, despite its good intentions, can't serve the ocean of need out there.

"We're just a drop," Heidi said, with Amelia adding and finishing her mom's sentence: "but a helpful drop."

Contact Joyce Tsai at 925-847-2123. Follow her at Twitter.com/JoyceTsaiNews.

Hometown Hero
Names: Heidi and Amelia Abramson
Age: Heidi, 52, and Amelia, 19
Hometown: Alamo
Claim to fame: The Abramsons crusaded for creation of a community garden at Hap Magee Ranch Park. All the organic produce it yields is grown by volunteers and donated to the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano.
Quote: "We're just a drop, but a helpful drop" -- Heidi and Amelia Abramson

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