Fremont Community Gardens

Posted on April 22, 2008 – 5:01 PM | by OldManFoster
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by James W. Cameron

Downtown life in Sacramento is a polyglot of experiences, places, and objects. At one end of the linear scale, a delightful range of energy, beauty, exuberance; at the other, a miasma of squalor and decay. Bountiful trees line the same streets where litter accumulates and exhaust fumes hover. But there are solutions to these problems so common to cities, and at least some may be found in greenery.  A prime example is a garden just four blocks from the Capitol.

Freemont Garden

Nestled among the structures of the Fremont Mews apartment complex at 15h and Q, and surrounded by a framework of Craftsman and art deco homes lining the adjoining streets, is an oasis of verdure known to some Sacramentans as the Fremont Community Garden and to others as the Ron Mandella Gardens, depending upon their point of view and historic orientation. By whatever name, it is a welcome addition to the concrete tapestry of the city.

The Mandella Garden was created by local residents in the mid-‘60s on land purchased by the State for the Capitol Area Plan five years earlier. It was named the Ron Mandella Gardens in honor of a young man who lost his life protecting a woman from assault. CADA, the Capitol Area Development Association, is fixed with the responsibility for designating new residential/mixed use development of state-owned properties in the capitol Area. It designated the site for housing in 1978 but it wasn’t until 2001 that it initiated residential development on the property.

An emotional conflict ensued between CADA and the gardeners.  The dispute sparked citywide interest and significant media coverage, and was finally resolved the following year when CADA, the City of Sacramento, and the State Department of General Services agreed to retain the garden’s square footage for use by city residents. There were continuing problems as an environmental assessment revealed that the soil was contaminated and a lengthy process of soil removal and replacement was undertaken.  The renamed Fremont Community Gardens opened in late 2006 and serious gardening began the following Spring.

One third of the original square footage has been left at 14th and Q with the other two thirds relocated to 4th and W Streets and named Southside
Community Garden. There are 50 plots at Fremont, five designated for low income residents and four with ADA access, along with two bocce ball courts. The new garden features a number of environmentally sustainable features. It is entirely organic and features ADA compliant walkways, compost bins, citrus and stone fruit trees, two entrances, and decorative shrubs along with various technologies that recapture rainwater and channel it into the soil.

The garden’s ultimate design, created by an advisory committee of concerned citizens formed in 2005, is more urban and park-like than the old garden, in keeping with a denser downtown landscape and the contemporary look of Fremont Mews.  While the developer contributed funds toward the completion of the project, the committee, spearheaded by Ann Fleenor and Evan Smestad, worked tirelessly to raise the vast majority of the money needed.  The gardeners themselves supplied the necessary labor, spreading topsoil, and moving and stacking the heavy decorative stones purchased to mark off plots.

Residual upset over CADA’s decision to develop the property and delays in the completion of the project remains and is apparent. Only a handful of the original gardeners have continued at Fremont and even fewer have moved to the Southside Garden. The compromise pleased some and antagonized others. But the result is a verdure that provides an element of beauty to our downtown landscape.

Edwina WhiteAmong those who made the transition is Edwina White.  A veteran of the film industry who made her way to Sacramento in 1990, then worked for the State’s Office of School Construction, she had a plot in the Mandella Gardens and diligently works one in the new digs.  “I rented an apartment right across the street from the garden when I moved here so that I could be close to it and be a part of it. “she explains. “The new place is more like a demonstration garden than the old wild and informal garden that Mandella was but I love working in it. We can plant anything we want except for those things that grow too tall and there’s nothing like digging in the soil and watching things grow.”

So where the city once had Mandella Gardens, it now has Fremont Community Gardens.  And if the new garden isn’t precisely what everyone wanted, it nonetheless provides great satisfaction for a generation of gardeners.  Emerging like an oasis among a mass of brick and mortar, it may very well serve as a template for city gardens of the future.

The Parks and Recreation Programming Guide (PRPG) application deadline is April 11, 2008.  Undertaken every two years, the PRPG is a document created with community input to evaluate the need for park improvements…including asking for more community gardens.  The PRPG process evaluates and scores park and facility projects for funding and development prioritization.

To find out more on this process visit Parks and Recreation, and search for the PRPG 2008 form.  Or, contact Bill Maynard, City of Sacramento, Community Garden Program Coordinator, 916 508-6025

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