Berkeley community gardens offer fruitful experiences for residents, visitors

Photo of Peralta community gardens
Caroline Lobel/Staff
Berkeley's Karl Linn and Peralta community gardens are among the Berkeley community gardens, in which community members can establish small personal garden plots.

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As visitors step through the gates of the Karl Linn Community Garden, the hustle and bustle of city life fall away. In place are the sounds of birdsong and humming bees, gentle against a lush backdrop of leafy greens, flowers and vegetables.

At the Berkeley community gardens, community members have the chance to establish their own small garden plots and beautify the neighborhood space. The Karl Linn Community Garden, despite being small, is the first community garden established in Berkeley, according to garden co-coordinator Karen Frassetto.

“Our mission is to be involved with the community as much as possible and make it beautiful,” Frassetto said. “I walk in, and I just see a lot of very enthusiastic, hard-working people that are producing a lot of vegetables for their families.”

The Karl Linn garden consists of 13 garden plots, which any Berkeley resident can join a waitlist to use, according to Frassetto. Each plot is assigned to a member — provided they pay an annual $35 in member fees and donate set service hours for the garden — and is filled up with drought-tolerant plants, flowers, herbs and vegetables.

While the garden was not well-managed in the past, Frassetto, who has been with the garden for about 20 years, described how she worked with co-coordinator Mary Lynch to establish regular public visiting hours on weekends with at least one garden member present to assist visitors with questions. The garden also hosts special events such as a recent plant sale, which has attracted more than 50 visitors to raise funds for new garden beds, according to Frassetto.

“It’s terrific now. It was kind of a disaster. … Before that, the weeds would be as tall as I am,” Frassetto said. “Right now, we’re in a good place: Everybody works well together, and it’s very healing.”

Another Berkeley community garden is the Peralta Community Garden, which is across the street from the Karl Linn garden. The Peralta garden has 30 plots, with about 35 to 40 garden members who commit to paying annual dues of $30, volunteering service hours for the garden and helping maintain the space in exchange for a plot of their own.

The garden is on public land since it is owned by BART but leased to the city of Berkeley for $1 a year, meaning it is required to stay open to the public for at least six hours a week, according to garden co-treasurer Elizabeth Peele. While Peele described internal conflict with some members wanting less public access to the space, she emphasized that it should act as a “commons” for all kinds of people to gather.

“The garden doesn’t belong to anyone, and nobody owns anything within the garden,” Peele said. “It’s all shared.”

Contact Cindy Liu at [email protected], and follow her on Twitter at @_CindyLiu_.