“Have you ever heard the quote that if every grocery store has approximately three days’ worth of food at any one time for the people it serves, then if something were to happen to our food supply system, society would be just 9 meals away from anarchy?” Dr. Mark Stemen, Chair of the Board for the Butte Environmental Council and on faculty in CSU, Chico’s Department of Geography and Planning, asked me at the end a recent interview. “It’s important for people to know how to grow their own food.” Photo: The central square in the new Humboldt Community Garden in Chico.
While I am familiar with this 9-meals-from-anarchy theory, which has been well-used, quoted, refuted and debated from the United Kingdom to the Doomsday Preppers, whether it is entirely true or not I will leave to other sources. But no two ways about it from my seat, it is important to know how to grow your own food. Photo: Signage at HCG.
I would even go so far as to say it is not only important, but it is our responsibility as human beings who need to eat to live, and as citizens of this miraculous planet, which we need to take care of if we are going to continue to feed ourselves from it (among other compelling reasons), that we understand the nature, source and systems that provides us with our food – whether this food comes from our backyards, nearby fruit stand, farmers market, our local farmer or chain supermarket.
If we were not taught this basic skill and the awareness behind it (eg: neither beef nor broccoli actually originate from Supermarket X wrapped in plastic) – a literacy like any other – as you grew up, it’s not always easy to know where to start. But here in Northern California we have plenty of options and resources. We are blessed with myriad opportunities and models for learning everything from how to grow a windowsill pot of herbs, to a bushel of summertime tomatoes to how to raise pastured chickens, goats and cattle. Photo: The overall plan for the layout of the HCG.
And Mark Stemen has been one of the driving forces behind providing the North State with another of these resources: The new Humboldt Community Garden (HCG) in Chico. While Chico is home to quite a few “community” gardens (19 at latest count according to Cultivating Community), and I have written about and photographed other community gardens around the region, including the Community Teaching Garden on the campus of Shasta College in Redding and the Mt. Shasta Community Garden in Mt. Shasta, each community garden has a slightly different format, purpose, flavor if you will, than all others. Photo: Mark Stemen.
The Humboldt Community Garden is notable for the scope and diversity of groups that have collaborated in order to see the garden become a reality: The City of Chico, from which the one acre plot of land is being leased on a three year basis; The Butte Environmental Council, whose staff is shepherding the project and under whose non-profit umbrella the garden resides; students of Chico State; Community members and volunteers from various other community groups including GRUB and CHIP. The original ideas and research behind the current garden were developed in part by one of Mark’s Geography classes. By careful design of the concept, “The garden will operate using a typical community garden governance structure. An advisory committee of garden members will oversee the garden, with the help of the garden coordinator. All decisions will be made democratically at monthly member meetings.” Photo: Volunteers working to clear the land from the beginning. Photo courtesy of Mark Stemen.
HCG is also notable for the scope of what it offers – and hopes to offer to plot holders. Where some community gardens are gardened communally, the HCG offers a very traditional allotment style community garden structure along the lines of Britain’s wartime allotments or Seattle’s renowned P-Patch community gardens, where individuals sign up and take responsibility for their own part of a larger whole. Individual portions bear each gardener’s unique mark in terms of plants grown, style, maintenance, etc. And each plot holder harvests their own results. Photo: The entrance in progress to the new garden. While the garden is fenced and the entrance locked, there are no official hours. “If gardeners want to be out there working by the light of the moon, more power to them,” said Stemen.
After about 2 years in development, the HCG offers plot holders liabilty insurance, fencing and best news of all WATER, with spigots installed for each plot. I feel compelled to point out that fencing and irrigation alone constitute two of the most daunting aspects of creating your own home garden. With 39 individual plots at either 15′ x 15′ or 25′ 25, prospective gardeners have a choice of commitment levels, which is nice if you’re not sure what you’re in for or how much you are able to care for or eat. Although excess is easily shared with other. Photo: 1400 feet of irrigation went into the HCG all hand dug and laid out by Stemen and other volunteers. Photo courtesy of Mark Stemen.
Which is another aspect of HCG where the community comes in. While the bulk of the plots are for individuals, a handful of larger plots are for community organizations and a common area is designated for gatherings, for hosting gardening workshops and cooking workshops to complete the field to fork ideal.
It’s important – after all – to know how to grow your own food. And to help others learn how as well. But not only is it important – it’s quite beautiful, quite delicious and … once you start, you’ll be hooked for life.
If you want to experience anarchy for yourself, plant too many tomatoes in your new allotment. Come September, you will know anarchy.
Humboldt Community Garden Mission and Rules
The purpose of the Humboldt Community Garden is to provide a source of local, organic produce to community members while fostering community involvement, alleviating the adverse impacts of the global food production system, and providing a space for horticulture education, recreation, and aesthetic value.
Membership and Dues
1. A plot is for a single household when there is a waitlist.
2. Membership shall be available to any household that agrees to subscribe to the By-Laws of HCG.
3. Memberships shall run from January 1 through December 31 of each year, but members may join at any time during the year. Rental fees per year (listed below), are prorated monthly, and are to be paid by December 31 for continuing members. A thirty day grace period is granted on membership renewal. If rental fees and completed membership forms are not received by the end of the grace period, then the member shall lose their membership and all Humboldt Community Garden privileges.
The mission of the Humboldt Community Garden is to provide a source of local, organic produce to community members while fostering community involvement, alleviating the adverse impacts of the global food production system, and providing a space for horticulture education, recreation, and aesthetic value.
• Provide local and organic produce to community members
o Aim to include all who wish to be involved
• Foster community involvement
o Provide leadership opportunities
o Provide opportunities for disabled/handicapped individuals to get involved
• Alleviate the adverse impacts of the global food production systems
o Prohibit the use of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides
o Prohibit the use of genetically modified seeds in the garden
o Relieve the reliance of fossil fuels for food production
o Lessen the use of water for food production
o Lessen the amount of water contamination
• Provide community with horticulture education
o General garden education for kids
o Cultivating, tending, and harvesting education for community members
o Sustainability education for community members
o Food Preparation and Cooking education for community members
o Provide a place where people can relax, play, and relish in their hobbies.
o Offer a place for children to safely play
• Aesthetic Value
o Arrange for urban greening to the surrounding area
The space is divided into twenty-seven 15×15 and twelve 25×25 individual garden plots, three 25×60 agency gardens, and a 40×60 picnic area. A central pavilion will allow for cooking demonstrations on site, connecting field to fork. While the garden is within walking distances of three major apartment complexes and sits along a main bike path, it is assumed that some gardeners will drive. So, the garden is set back 150 from Humboldt Ave to allow for off-street parking in front of the garden.
Introductory prices for a one-year plot lease are as follows:
$25 for a 15×15 plot
$50 for a 25×25 plot
The lease includes water and limited liability insurance (a city requirement). Water service is slated to begin in mid-May. The Humboldt Community Garden is intended to be self-supporting. All improvements to the plot are the responsibility of the gardener. The garden coordinator will attempt to arrange bulk purchases of compost.
Interested applicants – Are asked to submit the following:
a Plot Registration Form
the Rules & Agreements document
the Release of all Claims waiver form.
cash or check for the annual plot fee + clean-up deposit. (Checks should be made out to Butte Environmental Council.)
Contact Butte Environmental Council:
Office Phone: (530) 891-6424
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In a North State Garden is a weekly Northstate 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 mornings at 7:34 AM Pacific time and Sunday morning at 8:34 AM Pacific time. Podcasts of past shows are available here.