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Grow your own
Gardening isn't easy.
But it ain't magic either, and the things that are stopping you from trying are poor excuses.
“People think they have to have a green thumb to grow things, like it's some kind of magic,” says Kiel Famellos-Schmidt, whose Garden Fresno project (go to: www.gardenfresno.com) kicks off the first weekend in March. “Plants want to grow. If you give them the right conditions, they're going to grow.”
Garden Fresno is a hands-on introduction to urban gardening, where participants will take whatever space they have — and it doesn't need to be much, a stretch of overgrown lawn even — and plant some deliciously edible produce. The classes runs each Saturday for the month and tackle everything from avoiding hazards — neighborhood cats and dogs, let's say — to selecting plants at a nursery, and then actually breaking ground and planting. The classes will move from garden to garden, so participants will get the benefit of the extra manpower. After the first month, the group will meet every other week on more focused topics like troubleshooting, maintenance issues and harvesting.
In the last five years, Famellos-Schmidt has seen people become interested in sustainability, in things like farmers' markets and knowing where their food comes from.
Home gardens are an extension of that. Planting one is something you could learn on your own. The information is out there, for those who have the drive. But these classes will get rid of some of the barriers people might face.
Now, Famellos-Schmidt has never been without a garden.
As a kid, tending his family garden was a springtime ritual. This was in the Tower District, yes, but there were always chickens and quail milling about. There were always tomatoes. Even when he moved to the Bay Area, to a place that had less than 200 square feet of ground space, some of it in the shade, he still managed. When he bought his own house two years ago, of course there was going to be a garden.
The first season, it was small, just a 6-foot-by-20-foot strip in the backyard.
The second season he experimented and added a row of corn, right next to the sidewalk out front.
A strange thing happened. People stopped as they walked by, asked how he could plant corn right out in the open like that. Wasn't he afraid someone was going to steal it? Children were particularly interested. This was the first time some of them had ever seen a stalk of corn. Suddenly, it was a learning experience. Neighbors planted their own stalks. “It became a fixture in the neighborhood,” Famellos-Schmidt says.
And also on his Twitter and blog pages, where he kept live journalings of the process and fielded plenty of questions from readers.
That's where the idea for Garden Fresno was really born.
The project is the first of several Famellos-Schmidt is planning to run through Spacio Design, the architecture and urban design firm he operates with partner Shaunt Yemenjian. The classes engage a cliental that normally wouldn't be thinking of design and architecture. It's a way of diversifying their business, without it taking away from the building buildings part of the job. Hence, the classes are on Saturdays.
Obviously, these aren't farmers.
It would be a full-time job and then some for people to grow enough food to feed himself. But Fresno is built on top of primo ag land, and even 100 square feet of grass could produce a good crop of corn. And use less water. If one person has three tomato plants, they'll have more than they can eat. Famellos-Schmidt imagines the group could even create a trading network for their produce.
“A little goes a long way.”