How did you first connect with LandPaths?
I went to a store where they spoke Spanish to buy some things, and Magdalena Ridley was there doing outreach for a LandPaths outing to Willow Creek State Park. At the time, the invitation was a challenge to change my perception of life so that it was not just work, work, work. But making some time to go for a walk was not in my immediate plans, so although I signed up, I did not go.
And then, a friend emailed me saying that there was an open position at LandPaths. She knew that I was looking for a position that had to do with education and that I had taught Earth Sciences. So, I submitted my application and to my surprise, when I was called for the interview, Magdalena was there! She told me: “Oh, you signed up for my outing, but you didn’t show up!”
I immediately disqualified myself, thinking, “Darn, I’m not going to get this position now!” But they hired me as the Bilingual Garden Specialist at LandPaths’ Bayer Farm and it has been a privilege and a very funny story to tell 11 years later.
What was Sonoma County like when you arrived in 2002, and what was it like when you first started working at LandPaths?
I first settled in Apple Valley with my wife and children in 2002. We are teachers and we got involved with taking care of children. We volunteered at the Burbank Housing Community Center doing after-school activities with the kids, helping them with their homework.
My first day at LandPaths was September 20, 2010. When I was hired, I assumed that “these people” needed a guy with a shovel on his shoulder and that I could do that for a few months and then I would go find another job. But when they gave me the tour of Bayer Farm, I was amazed by the incredible vision LandPaths had, a vision that was more than growing tomatoes and cucumbers, it was about growing the community.
I didn’t know Roseland very well, but I was quite interested in it and fell in love with the community. And the truth is, a few months later, I thought “I hope this doesn’t end!” I was also hopeful that I could fulfill the commitment that LandPaths has made to the community!
When I became the Garden Specialist there were six families involved at Bayer. I am proud to say that they are still here, including Cornelio Huerta, Sergio Ortiz, Ramon Padilla, Jose Bibian, Roberto Lopez, and Familia Tlatilpa. I remember that I invited those families to have a community dinner on a Friday and only four men showed up, and now we are very good friends! We went into a section of the barn to eat, and I remember, I said to them “What do you think if we go outside? Because it’s so dark in here!” And since there were some picnic tables, we sat there and started talking. So we began to talk every week. While someone chewed, someone talked!
Those talks were very productive in ideas, trust, and agreement to do things together. These families gave me a lot of important information about how the garden started, they told me about the first proposals, activities and agreements they had made. They talked about potlucks, medicinal plants, work days, and a harvest festival. All of this became the foundation of the vision that was being developed.
Little by little this space was opening up and growing. It hasn’t been easy, but LandPaths has a good outreach system. I learned that before saying to the families “Come and cultivate this space” we must explain the plan of connecting to the larger community and with the land.
Since that time, how have LandPaths and the gardens evolved and impacted the Roseland and Moorland neighborhoods?
We’ve had many workshops and workdays and we’ve spent a lot of time talking and learning about farming and gardening. Currently families from Eritrea, Vietnam, Congo, Japan, China, Peru, Nepal, Central America, Mexico, and Anglos all have garden plots. This morning when I arrived at Bayer Farm, a man from Eritrea was harvesting from his space; he was so happy and repeatedly told me “Thank you very much!” for the opportunity to grow their food. He told me that this is the first growing experience he has had in his life, that he loves California and that he has learned a lot about growing and harvesting.
That is our goal, to connect with people and to have Bayer Farm and Jeff Bodwin Community Garden in Moorland be welcoming. People can come to our gardens to learn, to harvest food that benefits their family, to relax. They are very smart, generous, hardworking, valuable volunteers and it is a pride that our people are involved in doing positive things for their community, for their city and for their county.
The impact is very evident, very visible. Nowadays people respect more what has been built.
Through the community councils and with the increase in families adopting garden plots, we saw how vandalism and violence was diminishing on a large scale. I do not come out here as the hero, because this job is not for one person. All my fellow LandPaths staff that do programming here, all the gardeners who participate in different activities, and all the volunteers who come and understand the plan and do their projects, we all need to apply good disposition, wisdom, patience, and maturity to achieve what is in our vision. I am very happy when I see that people have a sense of belonging when they enter our gardens. Many people are asking how they can have the land as productive as we have it, how to have seeds for their crops at home, how to get involved in opportunities with LandPaths.
The creation of spaces like these allows everyone, regardless of their condition or class, to connect in the love for the land. I don’t have enough fingers to count how many testimonies of individuals and families that have benefited in many aspects. Just today, a woman at Bayer Farm said, “Our lives have changed, my child was overweight, but now he likes vegetables so much, he likes to eat broccoli, he likes quelites (green herbs) and nopales (cactus pads).”
The people are convinced now that el jardín (the garden) is a place where everyone gives and receives. I am proud to represent LandPaths to this community and to represent the community of these neighborhoods to LandPaths. I am LandPaths, and I play with joy. I’m happy to wear the LandPaths shirt, I’m proud of our whole team.
What is your vision for LandPaths in the next 25 years?
We have many challenges, but LandPaths is doing well to constantly renew and keep up with environmental and community demands. As part of LandPaths, I am interested in continuing to include young people and their energy, continuing to inspire with academic and field programming, community outings, to read together, hike and explore, row, eat, and camp. And continuing to champion the causes of clean rivers and air, to connect in love with the earth, and to continue cultivating the awareness that our planet needs us, our local community needs us. We must be aware that what we do every day is helping to build that legacy.