Gardening as Social & Political Action: Chico Organic Gardening Classes – David Grau, Founder

David Grau is a gardener; he is also an avid supporter of sustainability, community and local food production. He has worn many hats – gardening hats and otherwise – in his life. In the late 70s and 80s, he was an organic Market Gardener selling and a co-founder of the Chico Saturday morning Farmer’s Market.

His primary career for many years has been as a licensed marriage and family counselor. But he has always loved to garden and always loved the look, feel, taste and concept of locally grown food and the community that produces it.

In 1990, he even produced an improved version of a popular market garden tool – the wheel hoe, which he sells through his company Valley Oak Tool in Chico.

He himself has re-landscaped his urban Chico home so that its front and back yard lawns are now mulched over and edible gardening is underway in every corner: row crops of lettuces and peas run the depth of the back yard. Citrus and fruit trees are carefully enclosed in wire frames for easy covering.

And all of that is greatly interesting to me as a garden lover. But, what I really want to highlight about David’s gardening life is his current project as founder/developer of/coordinator of several impressive series of organic gardening classes in Chico. (Photo: David Grau in his home garden, demonstrating the ease of his wheel-hoe.)

David was first inspired to develop organic gardening classes when he was living in Marin County for 18 months between 2007 and 2008. There, he attended “ a series, sort of like what I have developed here,” he says.

“I really enjoyed them and thought that Chico had all the resources and the need for something similar.”

So he returned to Chico and put together his first series of classes, which were held at the Chico Grange almost every Sunday from January through mid-March.

A second series is beginning in April and runs through June and will also be held at the Chico Grange on Sundays.

The classes by and large focus on edible gardening and each week consists of a presentation by a local market or otherwise professional gardener. “Almost all of the presenters participate in the Chico Saturday morning Farmers Market,” David says.

“The idea was to use local people to teach us about each topic based on actual experience.”

One of the interesting things about the class series that David has developed is the broad range of format and scope of the presentation. “I wanted to cover the basics of getting your spring vegetable or edible gardening going and cover information about all aspects of the spring garden.” Topics covered in the first class series included things like soil testing, growing organic vegetables and flowers, ordering seeds, seed varieties, fruit production, potatoes and permaculture.

Besides classes and field trips, registration also includes a weekly e-newsletter. Photo: One of the Chico Organic Gardening classes in the late-spring, early-summer series starting on April 19th, will talk about structures for your edible plants in order to maximize production in relatively small spaces, such as these tomatoes efficiently trained up on trellises at Sawmill Creek Farm in Paradise.

When David first started developing the class series, he knew there was an audience for it. But the 180 people who signed up for the first series surprised him.

“It has been an amazing turn out,” he told me, shaking his head almost in disbelief.

Which brings us to the point of – I think – greatest interest about these classes. While David’s short and long term goals for the class series include helping to encourage more people to grow their own food at home and eventually helping to find innovative ways of improving the distribution of locally grown food, the series and the response to the series taps into issues that inspired David (and me, and many of us): gardening as a part of our cultural literacy, as part of everyday/everyone’s life, gardening as community, gardening as being a perfect bridge in a time of cultural transition.

One of the winter gardening classes I attended was a perfect example of this. Two presenters talked, one on permaculture and the other on growing potatoes. The audience was large, from all walks of life and all levels of gardening experience: the young, the old, men, women, couples, students.

Following the presentations people talked about such things as a recent book – The Transition Handbook: From Oil Dependency to Local Resilience, by Rob Hopkins; they talked about what people wanted to see from the next series of classes; they talked about a potluck following the next meeting. This is community, this is the social and political aspect of gardening – in which I believe strongly – alive and well.

So while this may seem like an extension of last week’s discussion on how to get growing edible plants in your garden, it is more than that. It is an example of one model put out there by one group on how to take that impulse to grow some of your own food, and move it to the next levels of the social, cultural and political. (Photo: The next series of Chico Organic Gardening classes will focus on the summer garden and summer food crops, such as eggplants, peppers and tomatoes.)

As a result of the first series of classes, David is working on adding more on-line resources from each class – possibly including video as well as digital hand-outs from individual presentations. A late-summer series is also being discussed and might cover canning and preserving. And more good news is that many of our Northern California communites are ready and willing for just such endeavors. Below you will find links to other groups in our region working toward similar goals, each in their own way. If you know of others, by all means send their info along to me to include: Jennifer@jewellgarden.com. (Photo: David Grau’s tool-shed. The next series of Chico Organic Gardening classes will include a class on tools.)

The next Chico Organic Gardening class series, which begins on Sunday April 19th, will focus on the summer garden and feature some excellent speakers and field trips. The first class is on heirloom tomatoes and the speakers will be Nancy Heinzel and Brian Marshall of Sawmill Creek Farm in Paradise (you may remember an In a North State Garden segment on their paprika last December).

Other topics will include irrigation, composting, chickens in the garden and plant support and structures, as well as field trips to Carl Rosato’s Woodleaf Farm in Oroville to see his peach orchard, and a visit to a spectacular English Perennial Garden designed by Christy Santos. The full listing of the upcoming class series is available on the IaNSG Monthly Events Calendar and is well worth perusing.

The cost of registration for the whole series is $50 if you register before April 14th or $60 if you register after. Registration forms and schedules are available at valleyoaktool.com. For more information contact: ChicoOrganicGardening@yahoo.com or call Hazel Van Evera at 342-8399 or David Grau at 342-6188. Photo: Tomatoes at Sawmill Creek Farm in Paradise. The first class in the next series of Chico Organic Gardening classes will be on April 19th and will feature Nancy Heinzel and Brian Marshall of Sawmill Creek Farm in Paradise talking about how to grow heirloom tomatoes.

Other Regional Groups doing similar outreach include the following:

People of Progress: www.peopleofprogress.org/

Shasta-Cascade Farm and Food Coalition: www.seancplanet.org/sustain_link.htm

Edible Shasta-Butte: www.edibleshastabutte.com/content/

Chico Food Network: www.chicofoodnetwork.org/

GRUB (Growing Resourcefully, Uniting, Bellies): www.grubchico.org

In a North State Garden is a radio- and web-based outreach program of the Gateway Science Museum – Exploring the Natural History of the North State, based in Chico, CA. In a North State Garden celebrates the art, craft and science of home gardening in California’s North State region, and is conceived, written, photographed and hosted by Jennifer Jewell – all rights reserved jewellgarden.com. In A North State Garden airs on Northstate Public Radio KCHO/KFPR radio, Saturday mornings at 7:34 PST and Sunday morning at 8:34 PST. Podcasts of past shows are available here.

Jennifer Jewell
In a North State Garden is a bi-weekly North State Public Radio and web-based program celebrating the art, craft and science of home gardening in Northern California and made possible in part by the Gateway Science Museum - Exploring the Natural History of the North State and on the campus of CSU, Chico. In a North State Garden is conceived, written, photographed and hosted by Jennifer Jewell - all rights reserved jewellgarden.com. In a North State Garden airs on Northstate Public Radio Saturday morning at 7:34 AM Pacific time and Sunday morning at 8:34 AM Pacific time, two times a month.
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2 Responses

  1. Avatar Denise Parrott says:

    I am looking to purchase a used electric juicer for wheatgrass and organic wheatberries.

    If you know of someone that has knowledge in drinking wheatgrass I would be very interested in talking to them.

    Thanks Denise

  2. Sorry this has taken me so long to get back to you, but my first instinct is to put a sign up at your local natural food store or co-op. Also, you could try places like Jamba Juice?

    Best of luck! Jennifer