Community Gardening Program Teaches Skills & Shares Bounty

Fertile GroundWorks aims to share the joy of gardening while also providing fresh produce to the community.

The nonprofit gardening foundation started in the summer of 2010 when Livermore's Asbury United Methodist Church put out a call for someone to develop some of the church's barren land into a productive garden.

"The church was interested in having some of the space behind their church campus used for growing food for the needy," Bruce Campbell, Fertile GroundWorks' founder and executive director, recalled.

The pastor was quoted in the newspaper as saying, "I don't now the difference between a radish and a turnip, but I know someone does, and they're going to help us grow food for the needy," Campbell said with a laugh. "I read that and thought, 'I'm the guy.' "

Campbell recruited his friend, Mark Brunell, to help launch the community garden. Both men are certified Alameda County master gardeners and have been avid gardeners for many years.

"The garden started as a project of the Asbury United Methodist Church," Campbell said. "Our main garden is the Garden of Grace (behind the church) that currently occupies about an acre of land. We grow the food there on a bed system that's called bio-intensive bed growing. It's a completely organic way of growing food."

A year and a half after starting the garden, Campbell established Fertile GroundWorks as an independent nonprofit. The church remains supportive of the program by providing land and water for the garden.

"Our goal is to grow food sustainably and teach others how to do the same," Campbell said. "We're an educational garden, and we also give our garden produce to those in need."

"Last year, we grew a little short of 15,000 pounds of produce on 9,000 square feet of bio-intensive garden beds," he added. "That's a lot of produce. Most of it went to Open Heart Kitchen, and the surplus was delivered to local food pantries."

Fertile GroundWorks has expanded its reach far beyond the Garden of Grace. The nonprofit works with several Tri-Valley schools to help them start gardens and keep them going.

The nonprofit partnered three years ago with Village High School in Pleasanton to revitalize the school garden and make it a key part of the garden-to-kitchen training.

"It has become an incredible garden," he said. "The kids grow produce organically, harvest it and then cook it in delicious meals."

Students at an elementary school might not create meals with their produce, but they certainly enjoy the fruits of their labor.

"The teacher might decide that they want to have a salad day," he said. "Or they may just go through and sample the peas right in the pea pod or the broccolini off the plant."

Fertile GroundWorks helped Livermore's St. Bartholomew's Episcopal Church develop its Big Heart Garden. This summer, the group will build and operate a historic kitchen garden at the city-owned Hagemann Ranch.

Fertile GroundWorks offers a free gardening class the third Saturday of each month. Experienced volunteers take on leadership roles to teach other people how to garden and to help with gardens throughout the community.

"We have a core of very enthused and dedicated volunteers who help train and guide other gardeners," Campbell said. "A person can come and volunteer, attend our trainings and learn enough to start their own organic garden at home."

The goal of all the work is to get people involved with gardening.

"It's an extremely important connection for people to be involved in the growing of their food," Campbell said. "A food garden creates instant community and provides human beings with a deeper understanding of the Earth and themselves. Differences and prejudice seem to fade when people grow food together."

Learn more about Fertile GroundWorks and get involved at .

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