RICHMOND -- People who have been away for awhile might be surprised to find a large community garden growing on what used to be the playing field at the now-closed Adams Middle School in the East Richmond Heights neighborhood.
The garden opened on a corner of the field in 2008, a year before the school shut its doors. Now, it occupies almost the entire one-acre field.
AdamsCrest Farm isn't a stand-alone project, but one of 12 urban gardens in Richmond and San Pablo sponsored by Urban Tilth, a 7-year-old Richmond urban garden nonprofit group.
AdamsCrest managers Jessie Alberto and Kenji Warren spend about 25 hours a week at the former school at 5000 Patterson Circle and on the first Sunday of each month anywhere from 20 to 45 volunteers show up to help out.
"Those are the days when we get most of our work done," Alberto said.
At present, the managers and their volunteer helpers are growing onions, garlic, beans, potatoes and Swiss chard, along with different varieties of lettuce.
"We're cleaning up the beds where we harvested tomatoes and squash, things you have to plant every year," said Alberto, who has his own garden installation, fruit tree planting and landscaping business on the side.
There are about 20 fruit trees -- "We're hoping to produce our first fruit crop next year," he said -- and five donated bee hives that are producing honey.
The garden also contains plants such as dill, alyssum, yarrow, marigolds and lavender to create a habitat for the honey bees and other pollinating insects.
Workers started the garden by bringing in new soil above a layer of cardboard that blocks the light and kills the weeds.
This year they expanded to fill nearly the entire site by turning over the grass that remained, blending in compost and planting it with cover crops, such as vetch, buckwheat and fava beans, to break up and enrich the soil for planting vegetables.
Produce from the garden is distributed to the volunteers and to charities that Urban Tilth supports, including the Richmond Rescue Mission, the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano, and the Greater Richmond Interfaith Program.
Some of the production from AdamsCrest and other Urban Tilth gardens is sold at a stand outside the Catahoula Coffee Co. on San Pablo Avenue in Richmond.
"Our volunteers help in the garden, take food home and learn something about gardening," said Doria Robinson, Urban Tilth's executive director.
On Tuesdays and Fridays, Alberto and another staff member teach gardening classes for students at Crestmont School, a private elementary school across Arlington Boulevard from the garden.
Crestmont board President Lisa Raffel, said she was looking around for a site for a school garden and Adams Middle School agreed to co-sponsor a project using a back corner of its playing field.
The West Contra Costa School District allowed Crestmont and Urban Tilth to expand the garden when Adams closed.
Alberto said he teaches the youngsters about "water conservation, companion planting, how to maintain the land naturally growing different kinds of soils, trees and root crops."
"It's a great piece of land, with a lot of sun," Raffel said. "It's a great teaching project because everything comes together in gardening -- math, science and social science."
Eight to 10 Richmond and San Pablo youths work at the garden during summers in a job training program sponsored by the California Endowment, a statewide health foundation, the city of Richmond and other agencies, Robinson said.
AdamsCrest Farm was also the site of a garden planted and maintained by a Richmond High elective class, which is now using two sites on the Richmond High campus, she said.
The 35 students in the program grew about 5,000 pounds of vegetables per year and families bought bags of produce for $1 a pound.
"It was priced just to cover our cost," Robinson said. "It's a direct exchange between the farmer and the consumer."
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