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Hmong residents log into Sacramento community gardens, but want more city support to grow more food

In southern Sacramento, a South Asian vegetable oasis blooms just off a busy boulevard. Known simply as Lemon Hill Garden, this several-acre property is rented out by a neighborhood church to most Hmong residents, who are looking to grow their own food.

There are lemongrass bushes, special herbs and leaves, bitter melon and sticky corn. This garden has existed and has been managed by the South Sacramento Hmong community for at least 15 years.

Cha Vang, whose mother has rented land in this garden for more than a decade, said that when she was growing up, it helped her family to eat fresh foods and vegetables that they wouldn’t have. may not have been able to afford otherwise.

“We never thought we were poor because we always had food on the table because, you know, my mom always gardened in the local garden and she always brought back produce for us,” Vang said. “It really gives you an eye-opening experience of what it means to have a community garden. “

Products for sale along the fence of a Hmong garden on Lemon Hill Ave. in Sacramento, Calif. on Tuesday, October 5, 2021.Andrew Nixon / CapRadio

This is not the case, however, for most residents of the Sacramento area.

A new CapRadio and Valley Vision survey suggests that people of color were more interested in community gardening, yet less than half of residents who responded to this survey said they could access a garden space.

African-American respondents were the most likely to say they didn’t know how to garden, and low-income Asian Americans were the most likely to say they couldn’t afford to buy or save money. ” access culturally relevant specialty foods.

Securing the space to grow can be one of the biggest hurdles for low-income residents trying to create a community garden. The city of Sacramento now manages 17 gardens across the city, but in southern and northern Sacramento – some of the city’s poorer and more diverse neighborhoods like Del Paso Heights and Meadowview – there are no city-run community gardens.

This means that residents like Cha Vang and his mother need to take the initiative. She says many older residents who operate a plot actually sell their vegetables to community members at cheaper prices than local grocery stores, making the garden something that continues to give back to the surrounding community and empowers Hmong residents. low-income to access specialties. vegetables that they would be more difficult to find elsewhere.

“It is one of the largest community gardens. and there are so many families here that if it didn’t exist, we wouldn’t know or they wouldn’t know where to go to find it, ”Vang said.

Shannon Brown, deputy director of the city’s Department of Youth, Parks and Community Enrichment, says for the city to create more community gardens, it all comes down to money.

“It’s getting difficult with the lack of funding and resources to invest in these areas, and we’re taking note and really trying to find a way to move these issues forward,” Brown said.

The city typically creates new community gardens from the money generated from the construction of new buildings or properties, according to Brown. But if an area doesn’t have a new development, there probably isn’t any money to start a garden.

There are also other obstacles for communities. Chanowk Yisrael is one of the founders of Yisrael Family Farms in Oak Park. Oak Park has a city-run community garden, but Yisrael said there are other barriers his organization has tried to overcome that have prevented people of color from accessing this space.

“So there is a large community garden on Martin Luther King Boulevard in Oak Park,” Yisrael said. “But I can guarantee you that there probably aren’t a whole bunch of people living in the underserved community who have garden plots there because, of course, they’re going to have to learn how to grow crops. food.”

Yisrael Family Farms seeks to help African Americans in the area learn how to grow fresh vegetables. According to the CapRadio / Valley Vision poll, only 60% of African American respondents had had any gardening experience or exposure – the lowest of any racial group surveyed.

“This is historic, because at one point black people owned around 18 million acres of land, and now it’s probably only around 1.5 million acres of land,” Yisrael said. “There was discrimination. There have been all these different things that have played into the idea of ​​why, in general, black people don’t see farming or farming or growing their own food as something they want to do.

This history of discrimination, of course, affects other races and cultures as well. At one point in the early 1900s, southern Sacramento was a vast farmland, cultivated mostly by Japanese Americans who knew how to grow crops in difficult soil. But after the Japanese internment, hundreds of families were forced to abandon their farms, and few returned after WWII.

“We [developers] bought this land in ’47, ’48, could we have bought it without the internment and the loss of the farms? Asked Julie Thomas, archivist at Sacramento State University specializing in Japanese internment.

“It’s mind-boggling that he’s been so successful, literally and figuratively, and now he’s just at an economic disadvantage. It’s ironic that right now there is such a dearth of fresh food out there. “

Cha Vang, in south Sacramento, said that while the community that uses Lemon Hill Gardens is lucky, finding space to grow in any underserved neighborhood is a challenge, especially if the community is low income or do not speak English.

“The other hurdle is just having the information where the plots are open so that community members can use them and really garden,” Vang added.

A garden along Lemon Hill Ave in Sacramento, Calif., Grows many vegetables used in Hmong cuisine on Tuesday, October 5, 2021.Andrew Nixon / CapRadio

In north Sacramento, Hmong Youth and Parents United hope to one day have a Hmong garden like the one in south Sacramento, but it has been difficult, especially during the pandemic. Muamong Vue with HYPU says the center had a small community garden, but it fell into disuse during the pandemic.

“We didn’t have anyone to maintain it,” Vue said, adding that many people had stopped visiting. “If our elders aren’t there to maintain it regularly or if we don’t have cabinet committee members who maintain it regularly, then it’s sort of overgrown and attracts bugs and pests.

She said she would like her organization to be able to get another piece of land to build a garden that can serve the community in the near future.

“My personal hope is that this will happen,” she said. “People could use it as a bridge to connect intergenerationally to our community, to our families and also to our culture.”

The city of Sacramento currently has a plan for 2040 to identify more community gardens as a priority. They say they are also working to find more funding for community gardens in areas like north and south Sacramento. They start with a community garden in City Council District 8, which currently has no city-managed land.


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