The community garden at the U.S. Department of Agriculture on Buchanan Street has donated 1665 pounds of vegetables to an Oakland soup kitchen this year.
The garden was founded three years ago, when employees dug up a small square of lawn near the driveway and planted vegetables destined for soup kitchens and food pantries.
Don’t confuse this garden with the Gill Tract also on Buchanan Street, but at the corner of San Pablo Avenue. The Gill Tract is where some of the USDA scientists grow research crops (mostly corn), and it was taken over last spring for several weeks by activists, who also planted a community garden and donated produce to community groups this summer.
In the USDA garden, most of this year’s crop -- cabbage, carrots, corn, kale, onions, potatoes, squash, tomatoes and more -- went to City Team Ministries, which runs a daily soup kitchen in downtown Oakland, along with other services.
This year’s haul was a little smaller than last year’s, of 2,200-plus pounds.
“It wasn't as large as last year but it was steadier and we had a greater variety to give to the soup kitchen each week,” wrote Natsuko Toyofuku, one of the garden volunteers.
“This year we had a huge problem with the geese eating most of our brassicas (broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, etc.),” Toyofuku wrote. “ They stripped all the leaves off, leaving sad little stalks. They also nibbled the lettuce down to the ground.”
“On the flip side, we had many beautiful sunflowers this year, unlike last year when the squirrels munched on most of them. Each year has its own quirks!” Toyofuku wrote.
About five to 10 USDA employees worked in the garden on any given week, with help on at least one occasion from Ocean View Elementary School students and their parents.
Now that the garden’s season has ended, the volunteers will plant a cover crop of fava beans, vetch and possibly barley to amend the soil and provide competition for the weeds and grass so they don't re-take the garden, Toyofuku said.