After helping hundreds to find
their place in the world, a
farmer-training group will finally
be able to put down roots itself
Photography by David Dennis
The Homeless Garden Project has always been about healing people’s spirits by reconnecting them with the land. And now, at last, the farming organization which has for the second time been named Best Nonprofit by Edible Monterey Bay’s readers, will have its chance to settle onto land of its own.
In December, the Santa Cruz City Council approved plans for HGP to take over a 9-acre section of Pogonip, a 640-acre, city-owned greenbelt space with a rich local history. Initially part of Cowell Ranch, the property was the site of a golf club and famous polo grounds in the early 20th century; more recently, its rustic lodge-style clubhouse made a cameo appearance in the 1987 vampire movie, Lost Boys. These days, Pogonip is a popular hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding destination.
The city is now finalizing details of the lease of Pogonip’s Lower Main Meadow, where the Homeless Garden Project plans to build a small administrative office, a barn and a greenhouse by the end of 2017, says Darrie Ganzhorn, the group’s executive director. HGP is currently planning a community-wide capital campaign for improvements to the Pogonip property.
“Having a permanent site means that we can plan for the long term,” says Ganzhorn, who notes the lease will be for 20 years with three 5-year, renewable terms, potentially a total of 35 years. “It’s incredibly exciting. We’ve been talking about this since before 1998, when the city put it in the Pogonip master plan.
“Our current thinking is that if all goes well, we hope to plant a cover crop in 2016. We’d spend 2017 preparing the site and building the soil, with a hope to plant our first crops for harvest in 2018.”
The nonprofit, which recently celebrated its 25th year, is now on a month-to-month lease on its organic 4-acre farm near Natural Bridges, also the site of its CSA operations, u-pick farm and workshop; its office is in another location. Having the Pogonip property means that the project will for the first time be able to combine all of its operations together on one site.
With more land, HGP will also be able to expand its farm, both in area and in new crops. Ganzhorn says the organization looks forward to planting orchards, a long-term investment that its short-term leases had prevented in the past.
Importantly, the farm expansion also brings the opportunity to take on more program participants. Some 600 homeless people have participated since the project began in 1990. They learned how to grow and harvest crops, developed other marketable skills and received counseling and social services support aimed at helping them find housing and manage other aspects of their lives.
Currently HGP serves about 17 trainees; Ganzhorn hopes to eventually triple this number, although she notes that it will take some time.
“We’re looking at how to do this while still maintaining the quality of the program,” Ganzhorn says.
Other plans call for increased volunteer opportunities, more donations of produce from the farm to nonprofits that feed the hungry and new events like a health fair to promote eating fresh fruits and vegetables. Ganzhorn says that she envisions the Homeless Garden Project’s new home as a resource not just for the Monterey Bay area, but also for anyone who wants to be part of it.
“I want it to be a gem for the city of Santa Cruz, and a landmark that people from out of town will want to visit,” she says. Runners up: 2nd place, Live Earth Farm’s Discovery Program and 3rd place, MEarth
Kathryn McKenzie, who grew up in Santa Cruz and now lives on a Christmas tree farm in north Monterey County, writes about sustainable living, home design and horticulture.
Homeless Garden Project
Downtown Santa Cruz store: 110 Cooper St., Ste. 100G
Farm and farm stand: Shaffer Road at Delaware Avenue
Kathryn McKenzie, who grew up in Santa Cruz and now lives on a Christmas
tree farm in north Monterey County, writes about sustainable living,
home design and health for numerous publications and websites.