July 15, 1992
By Yolanda Reynolds
On June 30, Mi Tierra, the first community garden established in San Jose, is slated to become only a memory. The current Council unanimously voted to allow the construction of a $10+ million ice rink on the garden property that is used and lovingly cared for by over 150 San Jose families.
The concept of a community garden was promoted by Artemio Carranza, now deceased, to address the often heard yearning for a plot of land on which to grow home grown vegetables and fruits that is expressed by so many, especially those of Mexican ancestry.
Mr. Carranza, sensitive to the strong attachment to the land of so many people in San Jose, approached the then San Jose Mayor, Janet Gray Hayes, with the idea of creating a “Community Garden.” The City officials were sympathetic.
Mr. Carianza’s son, Edgardo, who happened to be an employee of the City’s Parks and Recreation Department, was given the assignment of working out the details for the Garden.
The 5+ acre Garden is centrally located at the South corner of a block bordered by E. Alma and Tenth Street. The Garden is easy to spot because of the tall lush “milpa” (corn) – an unexpected beautifully cared for vegetable garden – that adjoins the San Jose Municipal Stadium on one side and industrial facilities and a busy street on the other side.
A visit to the Gardens was sheer delight. Hidden between the rows of milpa were rows upon rows of various types of chiIes, tomatoes, rows of tomatillo plants, various varieties of squash, pumpkin, and other garden specialties that are used in traditional Mexican dishes and not normally available at the average Mexican restaurant.
One of the gardeners, Jose Andrade, said that he had been renting a plot there for 13 years. He explained that in the early days of the garden, plots were available only to veterans and that the rent for a plot was $1 dollar a year. Eventually, the plots were made available to anyone in the community who wished to garden.
Over time, the yearly rent has increased. The rates depend upon the size of the plot and run from $50 to over $90 per year. The smallest plot size is about 20 by 30 feet.
Any time of the day, Garden tenants can and do work in their plot. The gardens open around 6:30 a.m. and close 8:30 p.m. daily. Each year, the garden tenants select one of their members to serve as president. This year, Mi Tierra’s President is Ramon Ramos.
Senor Ramos like every one of the other gardeners, is very sad that the gardens are to be destroyed. He says that he did not learn of the City’s intent to relocate the families renting garden space “until a month ago.” The gardeners will have to be gone by January 1 of 1993.
Sitting in the shade near the garden entrance with Señor Ramos was his young grandson, feeling very important and serious about watching that no water was wasted and lost to the plants that his grandfather had planted. It was obvious that he took his instructions seriously. He was learning how to work the soil and care for a garden, which for many no matter who – can bring much pride and a sense of accomplishment.
One would expect the Gardens to hold no surprises but – it did. The soil has been so well cared for – that gardening seems an easy job – the plants are so healthy – there is hardly a weed between the close rows. Many of the plots have beautiful ﬂowers as well – roses, sunflowers, geraniums, adding a special charm to the garden.
Scattered throughout the Mi Tierra Gardens are benches where the gardeners can rest in the shade. Enjoying their visions of the soon to be harvested tomatoes that they had planted this spring were Mr. and Mrs. Hernandez.
The Hernandez’s explained that tilling the soil was a pleasure that they greatly enjoyed doing together. Mrs. Hernandez said that they and the other gardeners were very unhappy with the news that Mi Tierra would be taken away from the community.
Mrs. Hernandez explained that, for herself and her family, the other Mi Tierra tenants had become a part of their extended family – sharing with each other the news of the day – creating a sense of community and of belonging that they did not want to lose.
That sense of loss is real – the City has told Mi Tierra tenants that it would ﬁnd smaller plots for them scattered throughout the City. Exactly where the plots are to be has not been determined.
Mr. Hernandez explained that their friendships and easy contact with each other would most likely be difficult to maintain since – many of the gardeners work full time elsewhere and come after work or before work to care for their gardens, leaving little or no time to pay a visit to some distant garden.
Mr. Andrade, who immigrated many years ago from Michoacan, Mexico (no relation to the publishers of La Oferta). Proudly pointed out that at Mi Tierra there were no empty soda cans or paper or junk lying about. He added that the gardens were especially fun for the children who accompanied their parents to the Garden because there were many places for the children to run and play.
At one corner of the property there are picnic tables, slides and other special places where the children can have their secret place, under any number of the neat, cool arbors scattered through-out the gardens-where they can dream in secret about places adventures in the way that children and even adults enjoy.
On an opposite corner is a smaller picnic area with a special barbecue pit that gets a lot of use at harvest time.
The Garden even has a community meeting room. On Saturday, July 18, the San Jose Parks and Recreation staff has scheduled a meeting to discuss the City’s relocation plans with the current Mi Tierra tenants.
News of the proposed ice rink has many in the City questioning exactly how the City can justify the construction of a sports facility estimated to cost over $10 million.
Leah Learned, who was President of the Olinder Neighborhood Center Association when the Garden was established in 1975, says that the Arena initiative (adopted by the City in 1985) requires a vote of the people of San Jose before taxpayer money can be spent on such a venture.
Learned adds that, “if the City wants to do anything like this – build a rink (which most people would agree is a sports facility-)it should instead help one of the current ice rinks expand with a low interest loan – or better – that the building of an ice rink project should be left completely to private enterprise.”
Others say that if a rink is to be built that is should be located in the Guadalupe Garden area on Taylor Street. There are acres of vacant land under the approach of the airport and wouldn’t be too far from the arena.
At the June Council meeting, from Peggy Flemming, a Los Gatos resident and former Ice Skating Olympic medalist, sent a letter to the Council in which she urged that the City construct a rink so that her “skating students would have a place to practice.”
Skating lessons are expensive. It is unlikely that many of the children whose parents live near Mi Tierra could afford even an occasional visit to the ice rink – much less lessons from a former Olympic medalist.
The realization of Mi Tierra Gardens. “an organic community gardening program” was a community wide endeavor. Besides San Jose’s Parks and Recreation Department other organizations who helped establish Mi Tierra were the Santa Clara County Council on Aging, Food Bank (BSO), San Jose City College, 1st Step Project (a part of a program for Student Academic Learning experiences, SJSU), the Olinder Center, Neighborhood Association and I.B. M. as well as many concerned citizens.
The Gardens were dedicated on Oct 14 of 1975. Hopefully, a better site will be found for the rink – if much is to be built with taxpayer money.
The soil at Mi Tierra has beneﬁted from the years of careful gardening. It produces a bountiful beautiful harvest each year and is obviously a source of great pride. It also provides evidence that an importance objective can be achieved by City and citizen efforts if they work together.
Regarding the Garden proposal, the Council on Aging wrote in a letter. “that such a project tied in well with our expressed philosophy of helping to secure and maintain maximum independence and dignity for older persons and to remove individual and social barriers to economic and social independence.”
One of the tenants, Frank, who was born San Jose and, at one time, owned a farm in San Jose, strongly objected to the proposed relocation of the Garden. He said that for most of the tenants, a move would probably mean the end of their gardening. He said that he could not drive to another place.
Frank explained that officials had told them that the City plans to relocate the Garden to Alviso – many miles away.
Frank has been gardening there since the garden was ﬁrst established. He is over 80 years old. His friend said that he was older than that but Frank, who did not want his last name used, would only admit to being “around 80 years old.”
Frank was particularly unhappy because it had taken years to condition the soil – it is obviously very fertile. He said “we should not be moved unless the soil at a new site is ready to be planted.” Frank said that another reason that was given for having to move from Mi Tierra was because of its proximity to the contaminated soil at the Lorenz Barrel property across the street. (That property was supposed to have been cleaned up years ago.)
Beyond the insensitivity to the enormous values of this project because of the pleasure and benefits that such a garden brings to so many in the community, is the fact that after a relocation it would take years to organically prepare the soil. This is of concern, particularly to someone the age of Frank.
Frank and his veteran (World War II) buddies, David and Bob shared a deep love for gardening and clearly enjoyed each other company in La Oferta’s two visits to the Mi Tierra, we were deeply impressed to observe the special friendship that had developed among the gardeners.
This writer grew up in the country – in the state of Colorado – Frank brought back the memories of the straight talking, no nonsense, healthy, charming, strong willed, crusty farmers of those days.
As Richard Reed, Superintendent of Parks for the City of San Jose in 1975, said then, “this project (Mi Tierra) will serve as a model toward the utilization of other temporarily unused park lands for organic community gardening purposes.” I would seem that the current City officials would be anxious and proud to be able to demonstrated a very successful City program.
If you are interested in learning more, or are concerned about the fate of Mi Tierra, attend the Saturday meeting, June 17, at 10 a.m. which will be held in the community room at the far end of the gardens. © La Oferta Newspaper.