By Janis Mork
February 19, 2013 (El Cajon)- The International Rescue Committee has partnered with Kaiser Permanente in El Cajon to open up a community garden for El Cajon residents, who wish to become gardeners by filling out a contract, to grow their food.
Anne Barron, community garden coordinator, gave ECM a tour of the garden, which is expected to open up in mid-March. The community garden is located at 203 Travelodge Drive in El Cajon.
“This is the site Kaiser donated free of charge. Part of the purpose [of the garden] is to integrate and to grow community,” said Barron, who believes in all-things organic, which is what this garden will supply. “New immigrants are bringing in new seeds that remind them of home. First is to get the soil into healthy shape. This used to be a hospital; they took the building down.”
“People will get a plot [at the back] and can grow what they want, depending on water amounts. Then, there are communal plots, growing together. We [also] want to invite people for different events, like aerobics.”
Other IRC activities include integrating gardening into holistic nutrition and healthy living education, supporting gardeners in farming microenterprise (vending at the farmers’ market, selling into Kaiser Permanente San Diego (KPSD), enrolling in farm training programs), using the garden as a cross-cultural learning and community building space, conducting culturally-relevant healthy eating classes, determining if gardeners can compost materials from the cafeteria gain approvals to serve the garden’s foods in KPSD’s hospital cafeteria.
Target population includes El Cajon refugees, neighbors surrounding the El Cajon Travelodge property and medical office building, the El Cajon youth, Kaiser Permanente employees and physicians, and El Cajon residents.
So, how did it get started? Barron told ECM, “We’ve been working with a couple of people, community garden advocates, to work with the city to get the garden.” The smaller, individual plots will be ready by mid-March, and then the people can move into the bigger plots near the front after the soil gets healthy.” She added, “Our goal is to educate ourselves, each other and the community of growing sustainability [not harming the soil].”
There are still walkways that they plan to keep, so people can get some exercise “if gardening isn’t enough of a workout.” Behind the tables is an area of green grass for the Yalla San Diego youth to come and garden. Yalla San Diego uses soccer to motivate child survivors of war and immigrant youth to help rebuild their lives through their education and eco-therapy program.
As a community garden coordinator, Barron’s role is “get the garden up and running and get the infrastructure built. We do have water on site; Kaiser left the water main for us. Then, we stake out the plots and create complex systems. A lot of clients who don’t speak English will speak to those English speakers, and get to know the language.”
She concluded, “At some point, the garden will be developing leadership areas to run the garden, like how does one grow in El Cajon, organic farming etc. I’m the person to call when there are problems. I have to provide assistance in solving the problem.”
For more information, readers can contact Anne Barron at (619) 641-7510 ext. 311 and Anne.Barron@rescue.org. You can also visit: http://www.rescue.org/us-program/us-san-diego-ca/climb-aboard-food-and-health-partnership and learn more.