Copyrighted material

Garden Activists Take Grass Roots Action

by Lois Pearlman

Setting an example by creating organic gardens rather than preaching politics
Hey, would you like a free garden?

On a rainy Sunday afternoon most "sensible" people would have been huddled inside watching TV or reading the Sunday comics, but Craig Litwin and his cheerful band of volunteer gardeners were hacking away at crab grass and forming neat little planting beds that they filled with vegetable and flower starts.

Compost steams on a chilly morning as P.E.A. volunteers prepare to plant another garden
Up and down High Street, a residential neighborhood in Sebastopol, California, about 75 miles north of San Francisco, members of Planting Earth Activation (P.E.A.) were cultivating vegetable gardens free of charge for anybody on the block who wanted one. The only requirement for the recipients was that they chip in for the compost.

"It's a local solution to the global problem of multinational corporations destroying the ecology and creating poverty in third world nations, so we can live high on the hog here in the states," Litwin explained while he was walking from house to house inspecting the gardening efforts.

Litwin was the main organizer for the April 16, event the biggest mass garden planting to date for P.E.A., a group dedicated to local food production and seed saving to keep heirloom varieties from becoming extinct.

The group "gives away gardens," with only two stipulations -- that they are grown without chemical fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides, and the owners agree to give back 25 percent of the harvest for seed saving . P.E. A. members grow all of the plants in a portable greenhouse on High Street, using seeds they have saved themselves as well as seeds donated by a New Mexico company, Seeds for Change.

P.E. A. opposes the proliferation of genetically engineered seeds and chemically-based agribusiness, but its emphasis is more on setting an example by creating organic gardens, than on preaching politics.

And nobody could say these intrepid gardeners were not putting their soaking wet bodies on the line for their beliefs April 16. As light sprinkles turned to a drenching downpour, they continued applying hoes to the clay-ey soil, leaving fresh plots of tomatoes, broccoli, cucumbers, sweet corn and snapdragons in their wake.

P.E.A. has already planted over 50 gardens, including the nine they completed April 16, most of them in Sebastopol and a few in nearby Santa Rosa. The plantings take place once a month, as part of a festival that also includes music, information, a potluck and workshops. Now they are looking for more volunteers to help plant gardens at homes, schools, and community sites.

The local organization is also hoping to inspire others to create groups of their. Litwin said P.E.A. has helped to form chapters in Santa Rosa, Arcata and Santa Cruz, as well as a group called Unity in San Francisco. There is also another garden "give away" group in Eugene, Oregon, called "Food Not Lawns."

Litwin said the inspiration for P.E.A. came during a month of long nights of conversation with his friends about what they could do locally to make a difference. Since he is a full time student at New College in Santa Rosa, the gardening effort is also serving as his senior project.

Comments? Send a letter to the editor.

Albion Monitor April 22, 2000 (

All Rights Reserved.

Contact for permission to use in any format.