Food and water are basic needs that seem increasingly difficult to obtain these days.
Many food prices have skyrocketed amid inflation, and a nationwide drought is putting Tri-Valley towns in dire straits, leading people to limit their outdoor water use.
However, a project slated to begin in the fall aims to help Pleasanton residents grow their own food in a sustainable and water-efficient way — a community garden and farm at Bernal Community Park.
“At Pleasanton, we look back on our heritage and roots, but we’re also excited to teach adults and children alike about farming,” said Pleasanton Mayor Karla Brown. “Having these community garden boxes so you can grow your own tomatoes and your own squashes. I’m pretty excited about it.”
The Bernal Park Community Farm is a project that was first introduced in 2006.
Pleasanton voters ratified the Specific Plan for Phase II of the Bernal Property by approving Measure P in 2006, which included a land use plan dividing the property into several sub-areas.
This plan, which added projects such as the oak forest trails, playgrounds, and grass sports fields to the park, also included a plan for the farm.
The community farm would cover two of the 17 sub-areas identified in the specific plan. The first consists of approximately five acres of land located along Laguna Creek Lane on the east side of Interstate 680 in a community farm and garden setting.
The other is said to be approximately 10 acres, located on the west side of I-680 and used for planting fruit trees, vineyards and other native trees.
The smaller, 5-hectare site will feature garden plots that residents can rent, an education center where people will be trained in gardening skills, and the community garden, which will provide educational opportunities through workshops.
Brown said that given the area’s long history of farming, she is excited for farming to return to Pleasanton.
“A lot of this area used to be just crops, ranching and farming,” Brown said. “It’s going to be a bit of a throwback to our history.”
The Community Garden is a project led by the University of California, Alameda County’s Master Gardener Program, a group of volunteers who train individuals in the science and art of gardening.
The 1.32-acre site will have educational gardens where master gardeners can teach residents various gardening techniques such as composting and mulching, efficient irrigation practices, and classes on growing plants from your balcony if you don’t own a garden.
But the entire courtyard and community garden is still in its infancy.
Recently, the group received funding from Pleasanton City Council to begin a “Phase 0” phase of the community farm master plan. In this first phase of building the farm, the master gardeners plant a so-called catch crop.
According to the US Department of Agriculture, these are crops such as corn or soybeans that are usually planted and grown in the fall to improve soil quality.
Lou Astbury, one of the volunteer master gardeners, told the Weekly that planting these cover crops will allow them to return to nutrient-rich soil in the spring, which will allow them to plant the teaching gardens.
“Typically, a cover crop is something you like to do in California during the rainy season, and it doesn’t really need a lot of watering,” Astbury said. “So we’re going to have grasses that shed roots at six, seven feet to open up and break up the soil and improve water penetration.”
He added that the cover crop will be “a mix of seed and part wildflower that will attract many different types of pollinators.”
Astbury said he has been working with the Master Gardeners on this project since 2016 and is now mainly working on bringing new City Manager Gerry Beaudin and other new City staff up to speed.
The timeline for completing the garden and then the entire community farm will take time as the project involves several phases.
Jennifer Miller, a management analyst with the city’s Community Development Department, told Weekly that since the specific plan was approved in 2006, the project has progressed from being presented as a concept plan in 2014 to approval of the Pleasanton Community Farm Master Plan by the local council in year 2018.
Miller said that in the first “Phase 0” phase of the process, the city agreed to allocate $70,000 of the $350,000 already allocated to the project, which will come from the city’s capital improvement funds, which will be funded in this year’s Budget review approved.
The funds will support the master gardeners program in planting the cover crops and establishing their part of the farm, which includes the educational gardens.
Miller added that any future city costs or capital investments in the farm would be determined by the city council in future council priority planning and capital improvement program budgeting processes.
“While the city is expected to have ongoing operating expenses associated with the various phases of the community farm in the future, those costs would be determined as those phases are designed and built,” Miller said.
According to the Farm Master Plan documents, after the establishment of the gardens, parking lots and general infrastructure, the next phases will be the construction of the garden plots for the residents that can be reserved, the construction of the areas for the orchards and other trees and the construction of a educational center, which is run by the city and the master gardeners.
Astbury said the city and gardeners also want to work with the Pleasanton Unified School District to offer students classes and educational programs at the center.
Astbury said that with cities having to follow new composting laws, it’s crucial to have the educational space so people know how to use that excess compost to their advantage.
But the main reason Astbury said he’s excited about the garden is because it will be a way for Pleasanton residents to learn about sustainable farming so they can go home and help the environment by doing grow their own food.
He also said that adding the farm and garden to the park will fill a niche for families to do things together that will not only benefit their daily lives, but also the overall well-being of the environment.
“I think if you can grow your own food, you can do it in a way that doesn’t actually harm the environment, but actually helps the environment by removing carbon from the atmosphere and taking better care of the soil,” he said. “I just think there’s a lot of benefits, it’s healthy eating and it’s a healthy activity for a family together.”