For those of you who have not yet met Steve Palecki, we highly recommend you drive out Newburg Road and introduce yourselves. As Steve is always hard at work, I don’t often get a chance to speak with him. Fortunately, the two of us were recently able to get together, and I had a chance ask about his reasons for starting the garden, and what his plans are for the future.
“Tell me about what inspired you to start this garden project?”
“The whole idea arose out of seeing an acre and a half of land being used to grow hay grass for cattle. I looked around and I saw such a need in this community for good, wholesome, nutritious food. After volunteering at St. Joseph’s Pantry Shelf and seeing the type of foods available to the poor—highly refined, simple carbohydrates—I saw a real need for the inclusion of fresh produce in these people’s diets. That’s when I began working on getting the garden started. Thankfully FACS was willing to sponsor us with liability coverage so that we could begin negotiating with the property owners. Through various generous donations from local businesses and individuals, we were able to get 10,000 square feet turned over and start production.
Now with our organic registration, we are able to sell our garlic and potatoes and all funds generated will go back into the garden to buy soil amendments, seeds and starts.”
“Why the focus on groups and not individuals?”
“As this garden is dedicated to providing produce for St. Joseph’s Pantry Shelf and the FACS foodbank, we need to keep a close eye on production. Having groups sign a contract and agree to give a tithe of their yield to the foodbanks means we can monitor production more easily than we could if the garden were for individuals.”
“How does the idea of a group garden relate to your educational goals?”
“The garden gives us the opportunity to offer space to grade schools and other youth-centered groups. It just makes it easier to do outreach. We already have the south Fortuna Excel program, the Hispanic diabetes support group, and the Eel River School as active participants in our garden. Individuals are welcome to participate, and we have many who come and help us, from the Latino community especially, but also from other community groups, but the main reason for focusing on groups is the opportunity for educational outreach, to help people learn basic gardening skills.”
“What brings people to you? What makes them want to be involved with the garden?”
“I’ve spoken with a lot of people, some of whom come from a farming background, but those skills haven’t been passed on, and it’s something that’s being lost today. As we get more advanced in our technology, people still need to be able to go out and dig in the soil and know how to grow something. It’s just a valuable skill.”
“Do you provide all the tools and equipment necessary?”
“All the tools are provided, yes. As far as amendments, seeds and starts, these are provided by the groups, themselves. If they want tilling done, in the case of the schools, for liability’s sake, I run the tillers for them, but I allow adults to use the equipment as needed.”
As the interview came to a close, I left with a renewed sense that the Lord sent Steve Palecki to us as part of His plan to provide for Humboldt County. We are truly blessed to have someone so dedicated and sensible to join our cause and use his talents to feed those in need through our foodbank here at FACS.
If you want to volunteer, donate, or just chat with Steve, feel free to drop by the garden. It’s located at the bend in Newburg Road, just behind St. Joseph’s Parish, in the very heart of south Fortuna.