Previously published in the Hughson Chronicle-Denair Dispatch, April 2, 2019
Oak Valley Youth Garden broke ground at their new location Saturday, March 23, behind Studio Joy in Ripon.
In 2016, Sarah Darpinian spotted a photo posted on Instagram by Liz Schuiling of a lush, fairy-looking, garden in Washington State. “What is this magical place?” Darpinian asked.
The answer unveiled unexpected need she found in the community: a youth garden, run by a master gardener, where children could come for free and do crafts, garden and grow produce to be donated to local charities, connecting with the soil and their food for an educational and enriching experience.
According to Darpinian, she and Schuiling rented a couple of garden beds in Ripon’s Community Garden. For the first meeting, they planned to plant seeds and hoped to see a few local children attend. 70 children came that first Thursday morning. The seed of that first vision of Oak Valley Youth Garden sprung.
Darpinian explained, “It’s multifaceted: they learn where it comes from, how to grow it, and how to appreciate it. A lot of them haven’t tried swiss chard and kale. Then they say, ‘Oh, this is good and it’s fun to eat healthy. I grow it and I pick it and I share it.’ It’s a good process.”
In 2017, they obtained non-profit status. To meet the demand, they rented additional beds, but after renting 8 beds, with more children coming, it was clear they had outgrown the space at the Community Garden.
When Darpinian and Schuiling heard that Jolene Peters, the owner of Studio Joy on Main Street, was looking to open a garden in the area behind the studio, Darpinian recalled, “we talked to them and realized we had similar goals to be a welcoming open space for anyone and everyone to come.”
The vision grew to include a space where children could run free, to use an outdoor kitchen for cooking demonstrations, a lawn alternative space where local artists can play music, where yoga or Pilates classes can be offered for the general community, possibly even host bridal showers, baby showers, or birthday parties, all culminating in “a warm, welcoming community space,” Darpinian said. She imagines children having picnics there, pizza nights, a place where the community can say, “Let’s go to the garden. It’s Thursday night: pizza night… The sky is the limit!”
With the help of Central Valley Sustainability owner, Cody Simar, designing the space, the waterworks and generating material lists for donations, Darpinian and Shuilling began seeking grants for this near-$35,000 project. Like all non-profits, Darpinian recognizes, progress is “at the mercy of money and volunteers.”
They are currently requesting donations of irrigation parts. After irrigation, they will build the garden boxes. “We can start once we have a couple of boxes and just grow and expand,” Darpinian said. “We hope a year from now we will be up and operational. We have to be realistic as well as optimistic.”
Part of the realism means digging in for a work day clearing the space, mowing knee-high grasses, trimming and removing existing trees.
The garden will serve those in Stanislaus and San Joaquin Counties. Each meeting brought an average of 50 to 60 children, with as many as 85 children attending on their busiest days. Most sessions included a lesson provided by a member from the community such as an entomologist, a farmer, and a nutritionist.
Darpinian’s motivation stems from the many angles the garden reaches out. “Thinking of how much fun my kids and the other kids have had out there [keeps me going]. We had some beautiful days out there where everyone is working together and picking tomatoes and making salsa, doing vegetable tastings, knowing we’re making an impact. I went and dropped off the food at St. Vincent de Paul. I saw the families waiting in line and they were excited to see fresh produce.”
In the two years since they began, the Oak Valley Youth Garden donated 800 pounds of produce to local food pantries. At their new location, they hope to increase that to 1000 pounds a year.
The Oak Valley Youth Garden will grow at 929 W. Main Street. Opportunities to give include donating materials, time and labor, sponsoring a brick ($150) with a tax-deductible donation and visiting their booth at the Farmer’s Market in the Studio Joy parking lot, May 2, May 16, May 30, June 14 and June 28th from 4—7pm.
To find out more, visit their website at www.OakValleyYouthGarden.weebly.com, as well as on Facebook and Instagram.