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May 26, 2019
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Cotati honors and appreciates CRPUSD district’s good news in May SMART to offer free rides... Sheriff’s canine apprehends convicted felon RP votes to restrict fireworks Planning Commission approves hotel CHP to check motorcycle safety in local area SSU Police make arrest in sexual assault case An offer has been made and accepted on Rohnert Park’s corporate yard Rohnert Park caregiver arrested Burglary suspect found with firearms May CalFresh month celebration Promotions in the Rohnert Park Department of Public Safety Homelessness spikes in RP Home delivery changes Fresh faces on the CRPUSD board 73rd Miss Sonoma County competition held at Spreckels Straus Family Creamery moving to RP TAG building grand opening Newsom’s vision “cradle to career” RP Downtown project underway Schools, facilities and bonds: Plans but no money DUI driver crashes into 7-1 Teen arrested for shooting at RP Bad air quality cancels sports Official election winners as projected by the VOICE  RP swears in new council member 2018 local stories which made history ArtStart brings art to the RP Senior Center Holocaust piano now in Cotati CRPUSD seeking a new superintendent Superintendent search begins Cotati Council moves ahead Fun family Christmas events in Cotati Cougars’ season comes to a tearful sad conclusion CalFresh clients get Feb. benefits early Rohnert Park Station Ave. update Cuts suggested for school district The “Healing Wall” comes to Sonoma County Cotati memorializes victims Rohnert Park considers firework restrictions Dr. Dominguez and Hawkins named as director and co-director for Hanna Institute University Elementary School to host Maker World at SSU Animal Shelter League of RP receives grant Cotati Council reshuffles seats Help save lives by donating blood New laws on purchasing and concealing handguns Fencing in Sonoma County School district leaders tackle 1.9m deficit School district seeking new superintendent Cotati protests CASA compact School district balances budget More high density in Rohnert Park Put down your phone April is distracted driving awareness month The Community Voice endorses candidates DA’s office awarded DUI Prosecution Grant Rohnert Park kid joins TCU El Camino graduates Rohnert Park Council says we don’t need another agency Rancho students excel in Poetry Out Loud  SC public safety heroes of the year Don’t drive with an open container Traffic concerns top RP survey SSU Equestrian looks to go national Brace yourself for mosquitos Station Avenue project Frightful, fun, free Halloween activities Cougars crush Ukiah Election projected winners November 6, 2018  Sonoma Clean Power offers no-cost energy upgrades Rancho advances to semifinals RP’s n­ew Director of Public Safety A stand-off with barricaded, suicidal woman ends safely in RP RP has a new director of public safety Mackenzie leaves SMART RP officers spent Sat. car chasing A shimmer of hope against the angry heavy sky SSU to host North Bay Women of Color conference Rancho’s TAG building, now a reality Mayors of So Co write angry letter Dodd’s college student food bill passes Public invited to give input on Downtown RP Site School board candidates voice opinions Woman stabbed on west side of RP LandPaths connects people to protected land Tech High Girl's Soccer Undefeated champions! 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From an eyesore to an eye-popping park

By: Mira Brody
September 12, 2014
George Martins vision turned Lydia Park from drug dealers comfort zone to source of neighborhood pride

Nestled in the far end of Rohnert Park’s L section is a park that was mostly neglected since its construction. Without a sports field or updated playground equipment, it was usually devoid of consistent traffic except maybe some late-night drug dealings. 

An empty lot, Lydia Park looks out over a span of Sonoma County hills and in the evening gives way to some beautiful sunsets – a tucked away gem local resident George Martin saw as an empty palate on which to grow something beautiful.

Martin began his idea of improving the park back when he moved to L section in 1998, hoping that some subtle landscape work and community involvement would scare away the unwanted business that he found occurred on a regular basis.

 

Taking back their area

“A bunch of us got together and said ‘no, not in my backyard,’” says Martin, who teamed up with neighbors Gay Deady and Michael Knappman. “So we’d sit out there and scare them away. When you have people present in an area, they don’t want to deal drugs, so they leave.”

After being connected to city staff by Theresa Lopez, a member of community outreach for St. Joseph’s Church, Martin got to planning a community garden concept. They allowed him to cultivate the land in the empty lots behind his house, helped put some irrigation in and donated any extra compost and woodchips that city had no use for. By 2008, they had a tractor out there, tilling the soil for the first time with donated money and time.

“I remember Rohnert Park back in the 90s…that was a very desolate corner of the city,” commented RP City Councilman Jake Mackenzie during a city council meeting in which Martin was recognized for his labor. “It was hidden away, and since that effort has started it has become a place where you can get away from the hustle and bustle and you can sit there on the bench and gaze out on what Sonoma County was at one time and still is.”

With the number of involved community members anywhere from 25-30 people a season, each person with a plot is asked to donate $25 to help with maintenance fees and they must work their section at least eight hours per growing season. They also forbid the use of chemicals or pesticides. 

Martin says they try to work around fees for those who cannot pay them.

 

Participation is the key

“It’s more about the participation than about the money,” he says. “My working in the park allowed other neighbors the option, the freedom and the feeling that they too could participate in maintaining the park without having to ask permission or be assigned a task. They took it upon themselves to become an active member in supporting our local community park.”

Although Martin welcomes anyone to join their efforts, one misconception of the community garden is that its open to the public. Many strolling through the park feel free to pick other’s hard work for themselves, which is not its purpose. There is sometimes a box of produce where gardeners will gather bounty they do not want, but the plots are otherwise off-limits to passersby. Many times different plot owners will trade their harvest.

One thing Martin has noticed is as they grow comfortable with their plot, gardeners will branch out, growing year-round instead of primarily during summer, and mixing different species of fruit; just this spring someone produced a cross between a blueberry and a tomato.

“I feel part of that is people are a little more comfortable with their planting skills and learning along the way,” comments Martin. “We’re also seeing some really unique veggies that are appearing, as they feel more comfortable to explore, they mix.”

He comments on the unique microclimate one experiences in Rohnert Park; the cool breeze and fog that moves in during the evening provides growing conditions that are impossible a mere mile away.

 

Flowers and veggies

“It is also beautiful to look at everyone’s harvests, and many people have planted flowers amongst their veggies,” says Deady. “As the produce grew and attracted attention, more people were interested and we always have a waiting list.  We have 29 plots and 20 households involved now.”

He remarks on the amount of support and education provided by the city, including Public Safety Director Brian Masterson and Tom Kelley and John McArthur of the Public Works Department. Neighbors Ray Robinson and Gerry Vandeweg help control weeds and grass during the season as well. 

“Community gardens are great for bringing neighbors and communities together,” says Michael Knappman. “It allows for networking with others and establishing relationships that are sometimes difficult to start in suburban neighborhoods. 

“It's an opportunity for connecting to the land. There is a lot that has been written about community gardens contributing to personal health and the health of a community as well.”

 

Link on the food chain

The setting of Lydia Community Garden is unique not only for the landscape and open space, but as a representation of our own food chain. The cows, owned by Farmer John in the adjacent field, come and go as the years pass.

“It’s really important for people to see where their food comes from,” says Martin, noting that many people are unaware of how much labor it takes. “I used to name the cows before I realized they were part of the food chain. He raises them and gives the food to his kids. When it comes time, he processes the cow right there in the field.”

Apart from producing their own food, the small once-ignored plot of land is now bustling with life and has brought the local community together over a common goal. It has become a park where people participate in their own sort of way.

“I feel so lucky to not only have this garden, but for all of the new and wonderful friends I have met there, whether they are passing by and we chat, or if they have a plot there,” says Deady. 

Next time you are out for a walk or bike ride, consider the last little corner before incorporated land gives way to open space, where cows roam and fruits and veggies grow in abundance due to the care and labor of the surrounding neighbors.