LATHROP – When Ruben Sandoval distributed 100 flyers inviting his neighbors to start a community garden, not a single soul showed up.
But that did not faze the University of the Pacific graduate and doctoral candidate at the University of Phoenix in Lathrop. He started the 30-foot by 300-foot garden plot anyway. He even purchased the seedlings himself. Some of the other things he needed, like fertilizer, were donations secured from the Lathrop Rotary, Lion’s Club and Valley Organics in Lathrop.
When the vegetables were ready for picking, Sandoval put up a “Help Yourself” sign inviting everyone to take what they need and bring some of the fresh food home.
The interesting thing is that, even with the open invitation, still some people sneaked in at night to help themselves with the vegetables.
What Sandoval has started doing in his neighborhood community at the El Camino Mobile Home Estates on Harlan Road in Lathrop has impressed Manteca Garden Club president Sandi Larson so much that she invited the former Lawrence Livermore National Lab employee to give a presentation about his community garden to the members of the club. Sandoval gave the talk at the club’s meeting on President’s Day in the Manteca Public Library.
Larson’s purpose in having Sandoval talk about his project is to see if the club members would like to do something in the future to help the Lathrop garden project. Larson suggested that the club could have a fund-raiser with the proceeds going to help the effort.
In response to some of the club members’ questions, Sandoval explained that the water used to grow the garden is provided by the owners of the mobile home park. The family has also donated the space where the garden is being cultivated. Sandoval said the Liberty family has been very helpful, especially after they realized the many positive benefits that the mobile home park gained from all the compliments that the garden project has elicited from the public.
That’s all in line with what Sandoval had in mind when he started the project. It is actually part of his doctoral thesis that he is working on which revolve around community involvement.
“A community garden is a stepping stone for getting involved in civic issues,” Sandoval explained.
Such a project produces a wide spectrum of benefits as well, he pointed out.
During the Great Depression, for example, “people grew gardens to share with neighbors,” he said.
And that’s what he’s “trying to bring out to the community” especially during these times of the Great Recession, he said.
Besides its recreational value, gardening also offers therapeutic and related benefits, Sandoval said.
“It’s healthy,” he said, while citing the results of studies which showed that gardening activity relieves stress.
Even after spending hours working in the garden, “all of a sudden, you feel energized.”
Other studies have also shown that gardening breaks social barriers and generation gaps,” said Sandoval.
While tending a garden, older members of the family like grandparents could share with their children and grandchildren “what they used to do” when they were younger, he said.
Sandoval also believes from his firsthand experience that a community garden “helps reduce crime.” He noted that since he started the community garden in March of last year, “vandalism disappeared” in his neighborhood.
Also, “by planting the seeds, you’re planting hope for the future,” he said philosophically.