What began as a simple idea to start Turlock’s first-ever community garden is now flourishing — literally.
Families, educators, students, refugees and more are tending to crops of all shapes and sizes in the new garden, which was spearheaded by Stanislaus State Geology professor Julia Sankey last fall and has now grown into a thriving space for agriculture enthusiasts. From squash and corn to sunflowers and peppers, the once-vacant plot of land nestled between Cornerstone Covenant Church and the new Jessica’s House is more than Sankey could have dreamed of.
“It’s amazing, and now it has a life of its own,” Sankey said. “Once the garden started here, it was like it got its own momentum and we’re just sort of watching from afar.”
Sankey, along with Jonathan Partridge, Melissa Been, Vivien Jacob and Anna-Martha Brown, came together to form the nonprofit organization Turlock Community Gardens in hopes to become an “umbrella” for others who want to start their own gardens in town. It was a lot of work to start the first, they said, and the group had to raise thousands of dollars for a drip irrigation system — $3,000 of which came courtesy of a grant from Turlock Irrigation District.
The garden consists of 45 plots, cared for by various individuals who all expressed interest in the garden before soil had even been laid. There are plots set aside for Jessica’s House clients, as well as a few tended to by refugee families from Turlock’s International Rescue Committee office. Partridge, who works with the IRC, said the garden provides food for the families, with one father riding several miles on his bike to care for the plot.
“It’s really cool to be a part of something that’s bigger than yourself,” Partridge said.
Already, crops are yielding more than caretakers can consume, said Been. She’s coordinated with nonprofits like United Samaritans Foundation and the Children’s Crisis Center to donate food from crops to those in need, and soon the group hopes gardeners will be able to share with nearby neighbors and families who could use extra fruits and vegetables.
Thanks to grant funding from Stanislaus State, Sankey has also been able to dedicate time to studying community gardens, working on research and presentations to show various community organizations how they can start their own. The funds also allowed her to hire a Geography student to make a vacant lot map of Turlock in order to help others find the space to do so.
“Think of all the vacant lots you see when you drive around town. There are so many, and we could have gardens all over the city,” Sankey said. “We want other community gardens to pop up and for people to start organizing. We want to teach other people what we did.”
Sankey said she and the TCG Board of Directors hope to host an open house at the community garden soon. In the meantime, those interested in starting their own garden or wishing to visit Turlock’s first can contact TCG by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.