Bolstered by nearly a decade of community efforts, the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department opened the Geneva Community Garden on Feb. 24, marking the transformation of 10,427 square feet of neglected space into a 60-plot public garden.
Around 100 people descended to Geneva and Delano avenues for the grand opening, which featured short speeches by several of the project’s leaders, an inaugural tree planting and a community potluck and raffle.
Located just one block downhill from the Balboa Park Station, RPD’s 40th community garden is the latest in a long string of projects to beautify San Francisco, bringing a newly renovated space for members of the community to bond, learn and grow together.
“This is the second most densely settled city in the entire United States, which makes our open space and our parks that much more important to families and neighbors or community members,” District 11 Supervisor Ahsha Safai told The Light. “It allows them an opportunity to recreate, play sports, interact with nature and get away from the hustle and bustle.”
In 2008, the Cayuga Terrace and Outer Mission communities had already envisioned having a community garden at the dilapidated Geneva Avenue plot to help defray grocery costs.
The project began in 2009 when neighbor Martha Arnaud applied for a Community Opportunity Fund grant of $300,000. The 2008 Parks Bond as well as many other programs and stakeholders contributed and nine years later, the parks department had $1.6 million to work with.
“It occurred to me it would be really nice to have a plot in a community garden and as I started looking into it, I realized there were no community gardens anywhere near here,” Arnaud said. “And one thing led to another and I just can’t begin to describe how delighted I am to just see this all come together.”
Rebuilding and renovating the previously dilapidated area took one year. Design and construction were led by San Francisco Public Works’ landscape architecture and engineering teams as well as Bayview’s Giron Construction company.
“I love it,” Excelsior resident Kara Whinston said. “I like the community aspect of gardening together and bringing people together around growing food. Any way you can bring people together around shared interests is powerful.”
“It’s not even about gardening,” said Jan Sheffner, a plot owner at the Little Red Hen Community Garden in Diamond Heights. “It’s about the community building. People make friends, people then have a support network near where they live, crime goes down, it’s beautiful. It’s one more piece of the planet that’s not being soaked with chemicals. It’s this tiny little thing, but it’s huge.”
Two to three weeks before the grand opening, dozens of community members worked with RPD to prepare for the grand opening. It took them several days to move truckloads of essential soils™ into the garden’s plots.
“This is an example of how tenacious community organizing and tenacious community leaders can make a difference in bringing neighbors, families, residents and those interested in beautifying our community together,” Safai said.
A culmination of efforts between RPD and community leaders and volunteers overcame the obstacles that might have prevented the garden from opening, including soil remediations, property line disputes, construction escalation and labor shortages.
“We persisted because plants and gardens and community are resilient, and we are here today to declare victory,” RPD General Manager Phil Ginsburg said.
The keynote speeches preceded an inaugural tree planting inside the garden’s two large communal plots, where community members planted Meyer lemon, navel orange, Kadota fig, Satsuma plum, Dorsett Golden apple and Asian citrus psyllid trees using ceremonial gold shovels.
RPD members assisted plot stewards and guided those planting the communal trees.
“It has education opportunities for the outside community, where we will be bringing lots of different programs and school groups in here even though they don’t have their own plot,” said Will Lyons, who has worked with RPD for five years. “We will be using this as a teaching space for the rest of the community.”
In addition to the two large communal plots, a communal growing space lines the inside of the garden’s fences. It is peppered with native and pollinator plants.
A handful of plot stewards makes up the garden’s steering committee, which is in charge of communicating with other plot stewards to plan the garden’s first governance meeting. Together, they will make decisions about the garden’s communal plots.
“You make decisions about what you’re planting in them together, you take care of them together and you share what you’re pulling out of them together,” Community Gardens Program Manager Mei Ling said about the communal plots.
Just two hours after opening, the garden’s personal plots were already filled with marigolds, lettuce, parsley, chai, green peas, sugar snap peas, beets, mustard greens, shishito peppers, brussel sprouts, radishes, tomatoes, Walla Walla sweet onions, carrots, spinach and much more.
In addition to Arnaud’s grant and the 2008 Parks Bond, the garden was funded by State Housing Related Parks Program Grants, the Open Space Fund and additional City General Fund provided by former District 11 Supervisor John Avalos. Other community stakeholders include District 11 Council, New Mission Terrace Improvement Association, Cayuga Improvement Association and Friends and Advocates of Crocker Amazon and the Excelsior.
Plot stewards have the gate codes to the garden, which may be opened from 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. At the time of the event, there were around 30 people on Geneva Community Garden’s plot waitlist, Ling said. You can sign up at http://sfrecpark.org/sign-up-online-for-a-plot-at-geneva-community-garden.
This article first appeared in the Ingleside-Excelsior Light’s March print edition.