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November 25, 2009 > Letter to the editor: Remember our heritage with community gardens

Letter to the editor: Remember our heritage with community gardens

We live in a region that has a rich agricultural heritage. Many of us are not aware of the important role the Tri-city area played in founding what is now the most productive agricultural economy in the world. I worked as a local nurseryman for many years without realizing that I was in a region where 19th century pioneer nurserymen founded the industry.

With a bit of research I found the following facts about our area:

The first vegetable farms on the west coast were started by the Spanish Padres at Old Alvarado, in what is now Union City.

Mission San Jose in what is now Fremont was the only mission in the system to have a net export of agricultural goods.

The first apples and pears that came to San Francisco markets for hungry gold prospectors in 1850 were picked from the abandoned orchards at Mission San Jose.

Some of the first landscape plants brought to California from Australia and New Zealand or from South Africa and South America were introduced by seaman, turned nurseryman, John Shin, in what is now the Niles District of Fremont.

Most of the grapes, plums and other European fruits that eventually filled the central valley farm fields were grown in Niles at John Rock's California Nursery. Rock's plants were the beginning of what eventually became the richest fruit basket in the world.

This brief history is only part of a local agriculture that was once rich with ranchers, orchards and flower growers. The full story is much more complicated and still waiting to be told. Today the farms are gone, most of the nurseries are closed and the flower growers have vanished from our landscape. The history of what took place is almost lost as well.

We don't even have a community garden to help us remember where we came from. Our society is the perfect example of commercially induced amnesia. At times when the fog is thick on the hills I find it difficult to recall what town I am in. Modern suburban landscapes are so similar that I can stand outside of identical coffee houses drinking a cup of America's favorite identical coffee without a clue what side of the country I am on.

Perhaps if we had a community garden with an agricultural education center we might teach our youth about the wonderfully rich history of this area. My hope is that by knowing the past, and sowing seeds in soil of the present, they may be inspired toward a greener and more sustainable future.

We live in one of the greatest agricultural wonderlands on the planet yet we have almost no local food available to us. Farmers at our farmers markets often truck their produce for hundreds of miles to call it locally grown. Local food is tastier, fresher and more sustainable in the environment. Community gardens would give our families the opportunity to experience produce that is truly fresh and grown in our local soil.

Anyone interested in developing community gardens, producing locally grown food or learning our agricultural history can contact Rachel DiFranco of LEAF at fremontleaf@gmail.com.

Bill Merrill
Fremont.

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