Friends of Visitacion Valley Agriculture Garden works to build community through gardening and the arts. They manage a community garden on the Visitacion Valley Greenway, located at the corner of Campbell Avenue and Rutland Street. Their garden has no individual household plots or waiting list in order to be as inclusive and welcoming as possible. The garden is a laboratory for seeing what grows best in the local microclimate, and its crops reflect the neighborhood’s diverse cultures. The group regularly exchanges seeds, cuttings and knowledge, and they contribute to greening the Valley and creating more habitats for pollinators. They also host workshops on plant propagation and fruit tree pruning, and their informal work days are multigenerational and engage many families who don’t have much time to garden, but enjoy dropping in to help when they can.
To activate the Greenway in ways beyond gardening, the group also hosts local events. The neighborhood lacks cultural venues, so this is an ideal use for the unique layout of the Greenway’s 6 contiguous parks. These events are a showcase for local artists, and help build awareness of the Greenway as a resource for the entire community.
Notably, the Visitacion Valley Greenway was conceived as a public commons and outdoor classroom, a means of building community and creating a neighborhood identity in one of the most underserved areas of the City. A small group of neighbors were the key organizers behind this project, and they gave each of the 6 Greenway lots a specific theme and conceptual plan to help others visualize the possibilities. With among the highest populations of children in SF, these neighbors were determined to offer opportunities for hands-on experience with nature. At the time, there were no nearby grocery store and healthful produce was unavailable locally. Ironically, the neighborhood was once truck farms, dairies and nurseries – and the group was inspired by this agricultural history. With a dearth of greenery along streets and sidewalks, they set out to green the neighborhood, provide a welcoming corridor of parkland for both people and pollinators, and use the parks as a laboratory to showcase plants. Subsequently, through their organizing efforts and with vital help from SF Rec and Park, the Trust for Public Land, the Board of Supervisors, and Mayor Willie Brown, the group was able to embark on building the Greenway: bringing joy, hope and healing to the surrounding neighborhood.