The Alamedan – by Laura Casey
A happenstance meeting at a networking event in San Francisco three years ago led two Alameda residents to create a city-wide educational and service program to help feed needy residents who rely on the Alameda Food Bank for fresh fruit and vegetables.
After finding out that they both lived in the Island city and had a passion for community-building, Amanda Bruemmer and Janice Edwards decided they had to do something together to create a new sort of community in Alameda. So they decided to form the Alameda Backyard Growers, now an education and service nonprofit organization which is celebrating its three-year anniversary from 1:30 p.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday at Alameda’s Main Library.
Every month for three years, Alameda Backyard Growers, or ABG, has met somewhere in Alameda to share gardening and growing tips. At each meeting, attendees are encouraged to bring the extra food they grow so it can be donated to the Alameda Food Bank. Within the last three years, ABG has also developed Project Pick, which uses volunteers to glean fruit off otherwise unpicked trees in the city to donate it to the food bank. Project Pick presented the bank with nearly 2,500 pounds of fruit last year, more than doubling what they gave the food bank in 2011.
“It’s enormously gratifying to know that we are helping people,” Edwards said. “We may not be able to meet those people who need food at the food bank but there’s a sense of contributing to the quality of life for people on the Island.”
Bruemmer and Edwards picked gardening and urban farming as their mission because it’s a hot topic in the Bay Area, Edwards said.
“People are more concerned about where their food comes from, they are thinking about eating healthier, eating more fruits and vegetables,” she said.
Bruemmer and Edwards held their first ABG meeting in March 2010, three months after they met. They advertised it by posting flyers around the city and by talking with residents and neighbors. About 30 people showed up to that gathering and today a typical meeting now attracts about that many followers.
“I am so excited to see how our community is getting together,” Bruemmer said. “The whole reason I started this is because I wanted to get to know my neighbors, because I thought that if you have a community of people that know one another you can have a stronger community. That’s a big part of it. Living in this city is great.”
The meetings focus on three themes each year and are usually convened at Rhythmix Cultural Works. Four weeks out of the year, a local Master Gardener will host a demo on growing in the Bay Area microclimate or talk specifically about gardening with insects. Four weeks will be focused on a hot gardening topic like backyard chickens or worm composting. And four weeks are garden check-ins where people can ask experts about certain problems with, say, a tomato fungus or bad luck raising lettuce.
Project Pick, the effort that removes fruit from trees on Alameda residents’ property and donates it to the food bank, started when Bruemmer and Edwards noticed local trees groaning under the weight of unpicked fruit.
“I am originally from Scotland where you do not see citrus trees,” Bruemmer said. “We have a lemon tree in our garden and that is just a fascination for me. When we were going around and saw all these trees with too much fruit and fruit on the ground we thought, ‘Hmm. We could give these to the food bank.’”
Alameda Food Bank executive director Hank Leeper said he’s not only happy to get the fruit from Project Pick but also the vegetables that Alameda gardeners grow and give to the bank.
“Basically they’ve provided us with a lot of tremendous produce and one of the things that is a big benefit to us is, they provide us with produce of a fantastic quality that I don’t usually get a lot of,” he said. The bank may receive fresh potatoes and strawberries, he said, but it’s rare to get chard or string beans.
“One of the things we don’t get a lot of is really good quality tomatoes in the summer,” Leeper added. “People involved with the Growers bring them by.”
Since their first meeting, ABG has become has become a nonprofit organization and is waiting for its tax-exempt status to be approved. In the future, ABG will be looking to increase public outreach and further help people become more self-sufficient and grow their own food.
Along with socializing, Sunday’s three-year celebration will include an introduction to the Growers’ board of directors and an invitation for attendees to join ABG committees tackling community education and outreach, gleaning and growing and fundraising and finance. There will also be a screening of the environmental documentary, “The Economics of Happiness,” which promotes economic localization.
The event is also a fundraiser, and ABG hopes to raise $5,000 to cover its annual operating costs. Admission is free, but donations are encouraged.
Bruemmer and Edwards said that despite work and family commitments, they are still having fun with the project.
“It’s great to see the energy, commitment and passion people have within our community,” Bruemmer said. “It’s really gratifying.”
Alameda Backyard Growers’ meetings are free and open to the public. Most are held on the second Tuesday of every month at Rhythmix Cultural Center, 2513 Blanding Avenue. Changes of venue and additional information can be found on their website, http://alamedabackyardgrowers.wordpress.com.
Alameda residents can call (510) 239-PICK (7425) to request a volunteer come over their house and pick their fruit for donation. Volunteers are happy to glean some fruit for the tree’s owners but ask that at least 50 percent of the harvest go to the food bank.