Aug 27, 2019
by Stephanie Hiller
The Sonoma Garden Park is one of Sonoma’s hidden treasures. It’s a working organic farm open to visitors, with a Saturday morning Harvest Market, workshops on sustainable farming, the Harry Potter summer camp and native plant nursery. Several garden plots are available for a nominal rental fee. Shambhala Buddhist Center has one. Vintage House is developing a garden, too, for its members.
The park exists because it was bequeathed to the city by its owner, Pauline Bond, a teacher, on the proviso that it be maintained as a farm. The Sonoma Ecology Center manages it. Two part-time farmers run it. Steve Carara has been farm manager for five years; a retired Silicon Valley program analyst and manager, he came to the farm as a volunteer, and learned to farm. For the past two years Jonathan Tanis has been his talented assistant.
Just about everything else is done by volunteers. And there’s the rub. This summer there haven’t been many volunteers. That lack makes it hard to harvest the vegetables for the weekly market. Even then, the piles of produce gleaming with freshness and bright with color usually exceed what is sold.
I do a little volunteering at the farm just to keep in touch with the soil and the plants now that I am living in an apartment in “the city” where the traffic roars by 20 hours a day out of 24. The land is what drew me back to Sonoma County after some years away, and it’s what keeps me here, even as it has gone from apples to grapes, and from funky to upscale, even though I’ve gone from being a mom with kids to a mom whose flock has flown to their own lives and pursuits. But as the French say, plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose — the more things change, the more they stay the same, and the land weathers it all.
The Sonoma Garden Park is a wonderful resource for people young and old who want to learn more about farming, and volunteering is a great way to do that. It doesn’t cost anything, and you may even go home with a few fresh vegetables. These waning days of summer are also the peak of harvest. Visit sonomagardenpark.org if you’re interested and to sign up; or just come out to the park .
The Park is located on 7th Street East, between E. Napa and Denmark Street. That’s farm country, what’s left of it, thanks in large part to our Urban Growth Boundary.
The UGBs, are they are commonly called, were embraced by Californians in the 70s as we saw towns on the Peninsula become gobbled up by housing sprawl; but they actually originated in late 19th century England, according to Wikipedia, and the first US UGB encircled Lexington, Kentucky in 1954.
Sonoma’s UGB will be up for renewal in 2020, a nd as you’ve probably heard, a fair bit of controversy has arisen around it, due to the desperate need for housing here, and the apparent shortage of places to build it.
But Teri Shore of Greenbelt Alliance can whip out a map to prove that spaces exist. She’s on vacation for the rest of the month, so I can’t interview her, though I do have an email from her that declares her commitment to the UGB tool. On July 30 she wrote: “In any case, it will be a tragedy if Sonoma Valley and Sonoma County go the way of the rest of the Bay Area in the name of ‘build, baby, build.’ It will never be the same for the people, the economy or the environment. It is time to think different.”
The solution may require taller buildings within the city. Not everyone likes the idea of multi-story apartment buildings in our historic town. But we’ve got to do something, Lord knows, unless we want to become a wine-country Carmel; you know, exclusive.
The debate is not about eliminating the UGBs but reviewing them in the context of the upcoming General Plan revision. Sonoma Sun columnist Fred Allebach has been arguing that we should have that conversation. In his July 19 column, he writes, “Are the General Plan, the UGB, zoning, segregation, and affordable housing issues linked? Yes, they are...The General Plan and city land use, tied to whatever UGB, needs to explicitly address these core equity issues up front.”
Makes sense to me. Let’s see what the City Council has to say.
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