EL CERRITO -- Members of a community group committed to urban vegetable gardening have established a foothold in an underdeveloped city park with a goal of expanding their presence and making it permanent.

The El Cerrito Community Garden Network is farming a 300- to 350-square-foot plot at Fairmont Park that parallels the BART tracks at Eureka Avenue. Potatoes, tomatoes, green beans, kale, bok choy, onions and other fruits and vegetables grow in the space, said Robin Mitchell, the chairwoman of the network's advisory committee.

The site is what's become known as a "pop-up garden," using redwood planters, used wine barrels and raised beds to create a compact and potentially portable growing space.

The concept is growing in popularity nationwide, enabling apartment and condominium dwellers to "manufacture" micro-gardens in areas that may only be available for a limited time, Mitchell said.

"We've created a 'pop-up' garden because the city doesn't want us to put in permanent gardens at this point," she said. "Community gardens are happening everywhere in areas where people don't have backyard space to grow their own vegetables."

The regular presence by gardeners in the park has some residual benefits, including increased public safety, Mitchell said.

"The garden makes the park friendlier for dog walkers and other users," she said.


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Some of the most active Fairmont Park gardeners include 10 to 15 Tibetan immigrant families who are "trying to find culturally appropriate vegetables that are not in grocery stores," Mitchell said, adding, "They are really happy with whatever they are growing and pretty much use anything that is grown there."

El Cerrito hopes to obtain grants to develop Fairmont Park with a larger garden, including 30 to 35 garden beds, an irrigation system, a tool shed, fencing and landscaping, said Melanie Mintz, the city's interim community development director.

The city was turned down for a grant of about $500,000 for such a project under state Proposition 84, which allocates money to improve parks and open space, among other things, she said.

El Cerrito had a concept design done for free by a landscape architect who had done other work for the city.

"We would like to build a cornerstone garden for the city, similar to ones that have been established in San Francisco and Seattle," Mintz said. "We knew the idea would take a number of years to get its legs."

The Fairmont garden parallels other community gardens in El Cerrito, including a student-run garden at El Cerrito High School and a garden at the city's Senior Center, Mintz said.

The Community Garden Network is a branch of Berkeley Partners for Parks, which also sponsors Friends of Five Creeks, a creek and watershed preservation and restoration organization operating in Berkeley, El Cerrito and Richmond.