Turlock resident Julia Sankey has always wanted to live in a town with a community garden, so she took it upon herself to make it happen.
Sankey, a Geology professor at Stanislaus State, was a member of a community garden while attending graduate school and saw firsthand the benefits one can provide — from hunger relief and improving biodiversity to spreading agricultural knowledge and even aiding in the fight against climate change. Now, Turlock is set to have one of its own.
“I had an individual plot of my own in a community garden for three or four years in grad school and it was all mine to grow things in. It was really fun and I met so many friends,” Sankey said. “There are lots of reasons why they’re important, like providing food. They’re a good thing to have in a city like this and their popularity is growing.”
Sankey approached the Turlock Community Collaborative — a network of public service agencies, businesses and individuals interested in making Turlock a better place — during a May Zoom meeting with the idea of a community garden. That was when she met Turlock International Rescue Committee volunteer and donations coordinator Jonathan Partridge, who said his organization was also interested in such an endeavor.
By July, Sankey and Partridge had a group of supporters and soon-to-be Board members and were meeting regularly to discuss the possibility of a community garden in Turlock. The group, which is still awaiting tax exemption status, called themselves Turlock Community Gardens and spent the summer touring gardens in nearby cities like Modesto and Stockton, seeing how they worked and what features should be included in the garden back home.
On Nov. 14, Turlock Community Gardens signed a lease on land behind Cornerstone Covenant Church at the rate of one dollar per year, which will serve as the home of the first community garden. Right next door, construction on the new Jessica’s House location is nearly complete.
“There are a lot of great things about the location — selfishly, it’s five houses away from my house,” Sankey said with a laugh, adding that the apartments and condominiums around the location, as well as its proximity to Stanislaus State, made the lot the perfect place to begin planting. “The church has been phenomenal to work with and they really want us to succeed.”
The IRC office in Turlock has started a program called New Roots, which is already in place at other offices and focuses on sustainable agriculture, and refugees involved in the program will utilize five plots of land to grow their own fruits and vegetables. Other groups that have already reserved plots include various university student groups, the church itself and others who heard about the garden via social media or word of mouth.
“We’ve been looking for an opportunity to launch New Roots for some time, and the goal is to help refugees grow crops that can help through health benefits as well,” Partridge said. “To be able to have this large section of land, .6 acres, and to have five plots on that is huge.”
There are a total of 45 plots, which can be rented for $100 per year to cover water, liability insurance and other expenses. Each individual or group is responsible for taking care of the plants in their plot and signed a “Gardener’s Agreement” to acknowledge so. There will be garden-wide work days, Sankey said, where the gardeners will come together to tackle whatever chores need to be done in the space.
“I’ve been joking that this has definitely been a COVID project...Not being able to do the things I wanted to this summer, a community garden has been on my mind for some time and it just filtered to the surface,” Sankey said. “I was trying to figure out something to do that was safe because I needed a hobby, but this is also something that is actually part of the solution for the climate crisis.”
Sankey envisions a garden that is a mixture of consumable plants and species native to the area, which will promote pollination and benefit the animals who call Turlock home. It’s an effort that has been on the to-do list of the City of Turlock’s Parks, Arts and Recreation Commission for quite some time, but has never come to fruition. Turlock Community Gardens hopes to work with the City eventually, Sankey said, and aims to develop gardens throughout vacant lots in town.
Turlock’s first community garden should be up and running by Jan. 1, Sankey said. In the meantime, those interested in donating money and supplies to the effort or those who would like to place their name on the plot waiting list can visit www.turlockcommunitygardens.org or email email@example.com for more information.