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The Student News Site of California State University, Stanislaus

Signal

The Student News Site of California State University, Stanislaus

Signal

Turlock Community Gardens a Labor of Love

A+number+of+garden+beds+at+the+Turlock+Community+Gardens.+Photo+by+Nix+Carbone-Deep

A number of garden beds at the Turlock Community Gardens. Photo by Nix Carbone-Deep

Half a mile from Stanislaus State, the Turlock Community Gardens serves as a public park and a congregation for local growers that has been built on the backs of hard-working volunteers. Two Stan State graduates who serve as members of the garden’s board of directors, President Melissa Been and Composting Committee Chair, Hector Vera, shared how they came to be involved in the project, their advice for novice gardeners, and their future goals.
Been got her start volunteering to take care of the garden bed designated to Jessica’s House , a non-profit that serves to aid grieving children and their families, when the gardens were little more than a dream.
“Prior to this becoming a garden it was a completely vacant lot,” Been said, “The soil was very compact, which is not ideal for gardening, so we sourced various compost and manures for gardeners. Then the next step was getting the irrigation installed.”
She noted another member of the board, Anna Hazen, as being pivotal in installing the irrigation system that allowed this dry, dusty lot to transform into the flourishing garden it is today.
Volunteer cooperation has been the bedrock of this project, a place where those with different knowledge bases and abilities can build something great together.
“It’s really fun having community members come together from different walks of life and getting to interact where they otherwise wouldn’t have met each other,” Been said.
Been has taken one local volunteer under her wing, 19-year-old Emily Pressman. When Pressman posted on the Turlock Facebook page looking for garden work, it was Been who reached out and invited her to the gardens. Pressman says one of the first things Been taught her was how to prune tomato plants correctly. Now, Pressman’s volunteer work primarily involves cleaning up dead material from the beds and collecting seeds for other gardeners to put to use.
Been’s volunteering extends past the gardens, however, as she’s also served as a farmer’s market vendor across California and in wildlife and animal protection agencies such as the Stanislaus Wildlife Care Center over the past 10 years.
She graduated with her Masters in Business Administration from Stan State last fall, and she plans on putting that degree to use to build more projects. After finding fulfillment in growing the community gardens as an organization, she plans on potentially starting new community gardens elsewhere in the Central Valley. She also has an interest in starting a non-profit organization that would provide access to organic food to the hungry, which will not only be healthy for them but for the environment as well.
“It’s less of getting the big paycheck and more of making a big difference,” Been said.
Another member of the board looking to make a big difference is 29-year-old Composting Committee Chair, Hector Vera, who graduated from Stan State with a degree in biology. He’s had a long-standing interest in gardening, noting his mother has a picture of him helping his grandfather out in his garden at the age of five.
“Since then, I’ve always had some kind of interest or involvement in garden projects,” Vera said.
He wants to make a difference by promoting regenerative gardening methods, which are designed to nourish the soil naturally rather than refilling the ground with fertilizers. For those starting out gardening, either at home or as a volunteer for the community gardens, he finds it important to learn about and focus on these methods early to create a sustainable garden. These methods include not tilling or reducing the frequency of tilling the soil, using cover crops on areas currently not being used, companion planting—where you fit different vegetable crops in the same planting area, mulching—specifically the “chop-and-drop” method—where you use the plant matter you cut from vegetable plants or weeds to mulch the ground, and creating conditions suitable for microorganisms so they can get access to the exudates that are produced by the plant’s roots.    
The Turlock Community Garden also offers benches covered by umbrellas to sit at and a public library cabinet filled with both adult and children’s literature, making it a great place to bring your family or to just relax.
Been also shared her plans to plug in a refrigerator with publicly available, locally grown food for visitors to share. The gardens are a positive, supportive environment always looking for new volunteers with new ideas for public services they could provide and the knowledge to implement them.
“Everyone’s here to pitch in, contribute, and do good,” Been said.

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Turlock Community Gardens a Labor of Love