Cultivating the commons: The Bay-Eagle Community Garden

Cultivating the commons: The Bay-Eagle Community Garden

Kristen Hanlon

The Bay-Eagle Garden offers bursts of green. Photo by Kristen Hanlon.

On a quiet stretch of Eagle Avenue between Bay and St. Charles streets is an oasis of green known as the Bay-Eagle Community Garden. It takes up about two-thirds of a city block and is bordered by a small playground and homes managed by the Alameda Housing Authority. On a drizzly, overcast morning in late March, a few dedicated gardeners were at work weeding, preparing their plots for spring planting, and harvesting vegetables for the Alameda Food Bank. I spoke with Jane Jackson, who has seen the transformation of “a heap of broken glass and garbage” to the productive garden it is today.

How did the Bay-Eagle Community Garden come to be?
It (was) all started back in 1982 by my friend Marion Riggs, who used to live across the street. She would look out her kitchen window while doing the dishes and see all these weeds and hideous rubble. People would come by and dump their garbage here. And one day she had a vision: “This could be a garden!” Word got around, and a few of us got together and tried to make it happen. At first the city didn’t respond or show interest in it at all. But then the Alameda Food Bank got involved, and promised their support if we donated a portion of our harvest. The Navy got involved as well and helped with the clean-up, as did a local minister, John Foley. It was real labor, getting down to the soil - there were rocks, concrete, lots of glass and the remnants of houses that stood here long ago. Occasionally cups or old bottles are still found in the soil. It’s refined now, we’ve got really good soil which we condition annually with compost.

The garden is completely organic, no pesticides or herbicides allowed. As you can see from these fava beans over here, the ladybugs love this garden! So do bees and butterflies, though there seem to be fewer butterflies this year. We have one large plot that is dedicated to growing food for the food bank. Right now there’s potatoes, chard, some Russian kale, favas, and beets mostly. Some gooseberries in here as well. David Williams does most of the work on it, but anyone can step in and help out with it.

When we first started, we had fundraisers in the fall. That’s how we raised money for our tools and seeds. Some years we participate in the Fourth of July parade - Rosemary, one of the longtime gardeners, coordinates that. Sometimes we get groups of schoolchildren in here, and that’s a joy. It’s good for them to see where food comes from.

How does one get a plot here?
The waiting list is long, but we did have four plots open up this year, and the people who got these plots were delighted because they’d been on the wait list forever. A full plot is $40 per year, and a half plot is $25. There are nine full plots and 30 half-plots. When people leave, we divide the larger plots in half. Each year we pay the housing authority $600 for water, and the rest of the dues go toward buying soil and compost. On the wait list, residents of public housing have priority, then low-income, then any resident of Alameda.

What is your favorite season in the garden?
Oh, summertime is the best. It’s a glorious place to visit in the summer, when everything is in full bloom. You’ll find corn, sunflowers, tomatoes, blueberries, grapes, and so much more.

For more information or to get on the wait list for a plot, you can contact Jane Jackson at 205-9006.