OAKLEY -- Months of brainstorming and planning paid off Tuesday when community garden advocates received the City Council's blessing to forge ahead with efforts to establish one.
Members of the grass roots group Oakley Community Garden/Farm Task Force presented council members with detailed plans for producing organically grown food on a site that would feature not only individual plots for rent but a 1-acre farm.
They have their sights on the 6.2-acre Moura property, an open swath of land on O'Hara Avenue directly south of O'Hara Park Middle School.
Since the group's original five members began meeting in October, more residents have joined the cause, and together they have mapped out concrete plans for bringing their dreams to fruition.
The task force hopes to sign a two-year lease with the city for the use of the Moura property, which it settled on after considering other parcels that also were presented as options. Members favor the site because it is centrally located and has access to water.
Because they do not yet have nonprofit status, they have found a sponsor in Slow Food Delta Diablo, an organization that promotes local agriculture and has agreed to help them obtain insurance and write grants.
In addition, the task force has a verbal agreement from Oakley Union Elementary School District to provide some of the water from its well at O'Hara Middle School for irrigation.
A commercial landscaping company has offered to help install the necessary pipes, and a security systems business in town is prepared to do the electrical wiring.
Members of another pro-agriculture group in Oakley have two tractors at the ready to start tilling the soil if the city approves the lease.
Councilwoman Diane Burgis, who has been serving as a liaison between the group and her colleagues on the council, embraces the project not only because she enjoys gardening but also because she considers it a way to help residents achieve a common goal.
Both she and task force leader Paul Seger also noted that some of the farm crops would go to food banks as well as to seniors and low-income residents who can't afford supermarket prices for organic produce.
Johnny DeVore told the council he's one of those disabled with a heart condition that prevents him from gardening. Doctors have said he needs an organic diet, but it's not easy on a fixed income, he said.
Seger suggested that the farm's bounty also could be sold at a farmers market and to local businesses.
Food tastes better when it's allowed to ripen instead of being rushed to market prematurely, said Oakley gardening enthusiast Julie Vazquez, adding that community gardens offer those without a yard the chance to enjoy the hobby as well.
What's more, they have a unifying effect on a community as strangers meet others who share their interest and become friends, she said.
"Everybody loves food, right? It's a neat opportunity to bring people together," Vazquez said.
Visions of the community garden's potential benefits abounded: It could serve as an outdoor classroom where people would learn such skills as how to compost or install a drip irrigation system.
Teens in Future Farmers of America and 4-H clubs could conduct their own projects there, and high school students could work in the garden to earn the community service hours required for graduation.
And maybe, just maybe, the council would consider rescinding its ban on beehives in residential areas so some could use the space to produce honey, a timid suggestion that prompted apiarist Mayor Randy Pope and other council members to burst out laughing.
Oakley Community Garden/Farm Task Force's plans for the long term are even grander: The group hopes to establish a community center that would offer a wide variety of recreational activities and include a cafe.
City Manager Bryan Montgomery cautioned against offering the task force the use of the land until the council had given youth baseball and soccer leagues the same chance to make their case.
But Councilman Kevin Romick spared no praise for the presentation.
"I'm really impressed with the amount of work you've put into this," he told Seger, adding that he had been expecting the group to come to the council looking for a handout.
The City Council agreed to revisit the matter in the near future once a draft lease is ready for its consideration.
Contact Rowena Coetsee at 925-779-7141. Follow her at Twitter.com/RowenaCoetsee.