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Common Ground: Creating Abundance in the Community

For the past thirty-seven years, a non-profit organization sought to bring sustainable gardening to the San Francisco Bay Area one sale, one class, one gardener at a time. This non-profit is Common Ground, a loved pillar in the green community of Palo Alto, CA. Common Ground is actually an offshoot of another non-profit organization, Ecology Action. Ecology Action was founded in 1972 to research and develop a high-yielding, sustainable agricultural system that emphasizes local food production and is based historically on intensive gardening systems. The system is called GROW BIOINTENSIVE. Ecology Action needed to promote this "new" system of agriculture and chose to use education and training as the avenue. Common Ground sprung forth as a store-front dedicated to providing all the needed materials for the GROW BIOINTENSIVE system and train individuals in sustainable gardening and land use processes.

Common Grounds - KeenforGreen

Today, Common Ground is run by center director, Patricia Becker. This enthusiastic woman manages the actual store, coordinates classes, edits a newsletter, and runs a demonstration garden at the same time. Not a small list of things to do.

I visited the storefront last weekend and was impressed by what I found. The actual storefront itself is small but clean. Everything is there for the novice gardener or the experienced horticulturist. Tools, seeds, soil amends, plants, and so much more may be found there. All of the profit goes simply in sustaining Common Ground and their demonstration garden. The staff is very knowledgeable and helpful to all that walk in. Do not worry if you do not know anything about gardening or if that green thumb actually seems to be black. Just step right in and ask any of their helpful staff, such as Don Lawson, for some great quick tips.

What if you need more than quick tips? Well, Common Ground has multiple levels of gardening education for you. First, Common Grounds has a small but complete selection of literature of gardening for sale. Most important in their library is How to Grow More Vegetables and Fruits, Nuts, Berries, Grains, and Other Crops Than You Ever Thought Possible On Less Land Than You Can Imagine, the primer on sustainable Biointensive Mini-Farming by John Jeavons. Next, Common Ground has a multitude of classes at very reasonable rates. The classes range in topics from yoga for gardeners, growing biointesive composting, to rainwater harvesting. If you can think of the gardening topic it is most likely being taught in one of their two hour classes. The price is very reasonable at thirty dollars. Finally, if you still aren't sure about striking out on your own into the sustainable gardening model then Common Ground provides a number of business affiliates in the area who are familiar with sustainable gardening and the methods used at Common Ground.

Throughout my guided tour of Common Ground the issue of sustainability came up numerous times. Special attention was placed on the works of John Jeavons, the Executive Director of Ecology Action, and the deceased Alan Chadwick, founder of the Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems at University of California, Santa Cruz. These two men worked to incorporate the French intensive, or bio-dynamic, method of agriculture into gardening. From this approach they were able to turn previous inhabitable hillsides into lush vegetation with low-water needs. John Jeavons still teaches many of the classes at Common Ground.

Common Grounds - KeenforGreen

Finally, one area I did not get to visit was the demonstration garden. The land used for the garden was donated from Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Menlo Park, CA. This garden utilizes many of the GROW BIOINTENSIVE techniques, such as mini-farming, permaculture, drip irrigation, California native plants, seasonal vegetable gardening and more. Currently, the garden is seeking volunteers to help with the gardening, which will provide you a hands on experience of how to garden. Volunteer day is usually on Thursday and you can contact Drew Harwell, the Garden Manager, at [email protected].

Common Ground is one of those rare treats in the ecological sphere. An organization that has taken a sustainable idea and became a pillar in the larger community. It is not only a store front or a service provider, but Common Ground is tangible proof of the evolution and increase of sustainable horticulture to the Bay Area.