Off to Pixley

From Peter Ruddock:

Some of you will have met Sarah Ramirez, who used to attend Transition Palo Alto’s Conversation, Community and Calling group, while she was finishing her post-doc work at Stanford.  Sarah used to commute between Palo Alto and Visalia, in the Central Valley, spending about half of the week in each place.  Some time in the last year or two, Sarah and her husband, David Terrel, started a project that they called Be Healthy Tulare, which is dedicated to cultivating a healthier Tulare County – a healthier community and a healthier individual, body and mind.  At the beginning of this year, Sarah and David moved back to Pixley, their childhood home, where their families still live – a small farming community in southern Tulare County.

As Sarah and David began creating Be Healthy Tulare, Sarah talked about starting a community garden on some property that her family owned in Pixley.  Sarah and I have long enjoyed conversations about using food to build community.  I had visited the Central Valley a few times, seen the property and was excited by the idea.  This February we finally kicked off the garden.  First, we invited some of the folks from Pixley up to the Bay Area for a day of tours of urban farming projects, including Dig Deep Farms, Veggielution and Common Ground, in order to spread the excitement.  Then, we invited some Bay Area folks to go down to Pixley to help break ground on the garden.  And so, on President’s Day weekend, Huerto Esperanza – the Garden of Hope – was born.

Sarah and David gave me frequent updates on the garden and on Be Healthy Tulare, which has other programs gleaning backyard fruit trees and teaching people to cook with fresh food.  The garden had thrived.  Despite some issues, many people in town have become very excited.  Passers-by stop at the garden fence and ask to buy produce.  Sarah envisioned a farmstand, which is something that I have been looking to build as well.  We envision that at first, it would start by selling only the produce of the garden, but ideally it would grow to become part of a network of sustainable farmstands, cooperating with each other to build a resilient network.  However, Sarah and David had reached their capacity to grow the project at that point.  Finally, in June I offered to join them, to take on a part of building Be Healthy Tulare, in particular to work on Food System projects, like the farmstand and network.

And so, last week I moved to Pixley.  It’s quite the cultural change going from my long-time home in the urban/suburban Bay Area to a small farming town in the Central Valley.  It’s hot here – I miss the beautiful Palo Alto weather.  It’s amazingly flat – I miss the hills.  But so much is happening here.  What a first week!  We’ve looked at land, held a class, networked with many like-minded folks, talked with possible funders, started work on a business plan with the intention of turning Be Healthy Tulare into a non-profit, and been followed by a KQED film crew a good part of the time.

Look for more reports from Palo Alto’s extension in the Central Valley.  Look for a KQED documentary, about food insecurity in the Central Valley and solutions which are starting to emerge – about us, and particularly about Sarah – scheduled to air on October 11.  And look for me occasionally in Palo Alto – I will return frequently to my long-time home.

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