It seems fitting that an empty lot in the historic part of Ceres – named for the Roman goddess of agriculture – is yielding produce in great variety thanks to a collective of green thumbs.
The 6,500-square-foot Ceres Community Garden was introduced in May 2018 at the southeast corner of Fifth and Lawrence streets thanks to the generosity of owner Shane Parson. Since then, community members who are able to get beds on a first-come, first-served basis have been successfully growing grapes, artichokes, squash, corn, green beans, carrots, turnips, okra and tomatoes.
The garden is back this year after COVID-19 stifled activity in 2020.
“We’ve gotten a couple of new families that have been heavily active, which is amazing,” said Shella Joiner, who helps keep an eye on the garden with husband Mark.
The summer sun was beating down Wednesday afternoon when Katherine Soria and daughters Jasmine and Katie walked a half a block from their home to tend to their garden bed. They are among the 10 families who have gardens this summer. Catherine and her husband Carlos and girls regularly tend to their plants, making sure they’re getting water and plucking out the weeds.
“This is a way of getting out of the house,” said Katherine. “We’ve got zucchini, tomato, peppers, cucumbers and some snow peas this year. We tried radishes but those didn’t come out very well. They just tasted weird; they tasted peppery almost.”
Each person who has given rights to plant a bed is responsible for its upkeep.
“The operation of the bed is under the operation of the operator,” said Kari Arnold of the U.C. Cooperative Extension. “So I don’t touch her bed, he doesn’t touch mine.”
“I heard about this whole thing, got involved pretty early on through the U.C. Cooperative Extension,” said Arnold, a Ceres resident who both has a garden bed at the site and also represents the U.C. Cooperative Extension.
“We plan to do Extension events here,” she said, adding that as things return to normal she’d like the garden to again host events like pumpkin painting and rolling and a crafts fair.
Shella’s husband Mark keeps an eye on the garden and takes care of the peach trees planted at the Arbor Day ceremony in 2018. The Joiners are big supporters of the garden since it got off the ground when the city of Ceres and CivicSpark teamed up with Parson. Civic Spark no longer involved.
“One thing that we’ve had a little bit of struggle with is obviously there’s a water bill,” said Shella, who lives nearby. “We’re hoping to get sponsors. This is all non-profit based solely on the seeds getting donated, people bringing their own plants. Bonnie Plants initially donated for the first two rounds. Anybody who wants to sponsor something can contact us.”
Parson has been paying the water bill for years but the Joiners hope a sponsor can relieve him of the expense. The garden could also use a shed to protect tools from thieves. When the garden experienced some thefts, Ceres Police and Home Depot partnered to donate gift cards to fund replacements.
“If we had a shed we wouldn’t have to worry about things getting stolen,” said Shella.
Participating families who do all the cultivating and weeding often share their excess vegetables to the community. Extra veggies like zucchini are placed on an “offering table” at the site for the community with the hopeful expectation that they’ll help pull weeds or make a donation in exchange.
The garden saw limited activity in the summer of 2020 because of the pandemic but Ted Hawkins, Kari Arnold and the Joiners spent time keeping the weeds down.
“We were here pulling weeds in the winter time,” said Hawkins, a master gardener through the U.C. Cooperative Extension and Ceres resident who loves to share his knowledge of raising a vegetable garden. He and members of the Ceres Garden Club have also tended to the flowering plants along the fence to help enhance the neighborhood. Hawkins offers help and advice for those experiencing problems in their gardens.
While it’s too late for anyone to get in on a summer garden, persons can get on the list for a fall bed.
“The sooner they pique interest even before the turn of the season better,” said Shella Joiner.
The best way to get involved is to message the Ceres Community Garden Facebook page.
Those who plan to get a bed will be expected to help do some of the fall preparation, like pulling up the old plants.
Hawkins said fall is a great time to plant cabbage, kale, carrots, peas and broccoli – plants that don’t require as much sunlight.
The garden also has a community library box for reading materials.