Soli

Susan Harder works in the Soil&Water Garden, a shared community garden in Mountain View.

“Grow kindness” says a sign sprouting in the middle of a bountiful garden that is home to dozens of plants from arugula to zebra tomatoes.

It’s an indication of the special nature of Soil&Water Garden, a shared community garden project that has roots in Mountain View’s Heritage Park, a 1.2-acre gem on Rengstorff Avenue.

“Our mission is to connect our community through gardening,” said Soil&Water founder Kavita Dave Coombe. “We are a group of greater Mountain View residents with a shared interest in gardening, fresh food and cooking. We want to cultivate a space where people can gather, garden, create and learn from each other.”

In a “shared” community garden, as opposed to a community garden, the members collectively design, plant, harvest and enjoy it – donating any surplus harvest.

After Soil&Water’s small start in a resident’s backyard, Coombe and others pushed for project funding and city approval, eventually being rewarded with both. It became a project of Los Altos Community Foundation, received a grant from Google and support from the Kiwanis Club of Mountain View. In December 2016, the city of Mountain View awarded the use of land at Heritage Park.

A month later, volunteers began working the park’s 2,200-square-foot demonstration garden. The city provided a garden shed, built the fencing and installed irrigation.

For the past four years, the garden has been serving volunteers and their children, engaging members through biweekly workdays and, prior to the pandemic, hosting community events such as the History Harvest Festival and do-it-yourself activities like salve making. A handful of volunteers has kept the garden growing during the pandemic, albeit on a smaller scale.

Nurturing the garden – and one another

On a recent garden workday, Coombe was watering while her daughter was among a small group of preschoolers nearby learning about gardening. Before her involvement with Soil&Water, she wasn’t a gardener per se but took it up because of her children. Teaching children where food comes from is among the organization’s primary objectives.

“Gardening at home isn’t as much fun as being a part of a community where you learn from each other,” Coombe said. “We’re not only nurturing the garden, but also the community.”

For volunteer Susan Harder, the best thing about the garden has been learning about the “strong connections” that exist between produce and a person’s sense of place.

“A lot of the crops we choose as a community to grow are important to people culturally … reminding them of the ‘taste of home.’ Some of these foods are not readily available in standard grocery stores,” she said. “Especially during the pandemic, when many of us have been unable to travel to places we call ‘home,’ this has been an important source of comfort and connection with others.”

Rhubarb and kohlrabi are Harder’s reminders of home. For someone else, it might be okra or a particular bean variety. The important thing to her is that there’s room for all of the plants to grow together in the garden. However, she wishes her two children would be more open to trying the produce she brings home.

She mimicked their reaction this way: “Here comes Mom bringing home something else green from the garden. What now?”

Soil&Water has been a haven for Harder and other volunteers during COVID.

“I personally have enjoyed every moment in the garden,” Archana Gurunathan said. “It gives total peace of mind working there. It is more like a stress buster.”

Shree Krishnamurthi calls it a “refuge,” a “space to put aside stress and worries that fill our minds, to spend a few hours with Mother Nature. It’s my weekly meditation.”

Dulce Munoz views Soil&Water as a connection to the environment.

“Having somewhere people in our community can interact and ask about what’s growing is so fulfilling since it means people want to know more about the food we all eat,” she said.

Among Soil&Water’s objectives are teaching sustainable farming techniques in an urban setting and demonstrating how gardens can be grown on a small scale and be aesthetically pleasing year-round. Knowledge gained through hands-on experiences can be applied to container gardening and home garden plots.

“All ages are welcome to volunteer and no experience is necessary,” Coombe said. “Bring a mask, gloves, a hat and a water bottle and come to learn by

doing.”

Workdays are held 9-11 a.m. Wednesdays and 10 a.m. to noon Saturdays. Volunteers can simply show up; however, in practice, most prefer to send an email by way of introduction.

To register for a workday, email soilandwatergarden@gmail.com. For more information, visit soilandwatergarden.org.