Spiral Gardens Sets Down Roots on Sacramento Street

By RON SULLIVAN Special to the Planet
Tuesday June 29, 2004

Spiral Gardens Community Food Security Project’s Urban Garden Center opened grandly on Sunday, June 27, at 2 p.m., with a stageful of song, rap, and inspirational speech, and food and plants for sale and for free. 

The garden is on Sacramento Street at Oregon—a conspicuous half out on Sacramento and a hidden half across Oregon behind the storefronts. The front half is what you’ve been wondering about for the last several months as you drive by: What’s he building in there? 

It is nursery tables, rigged up for potting and maintaining seedlings and aimed southward for solar gain. These are filling with plants for sale, herb and veggie starts including unusual stuff like oca and cardoon. There’s a garden shed and a spot sheltered by a trellis for gathering or just enjoying the green. The hidden section is beds in the ground with assorted useful plants, and some potted ornamentals being groomed for sale there and at the Berkeley Farmers’ Market. One of the storefronts housed Spiral Gardens’ office, as full of plants as it is of papers. 

Spiral Gardens has been around for years, starting as a guerrilla gardening movement to grow produce in community gardens on vacant lots. It allied with BOSS (Berkeley Oakland Support Services/Building Opportunities for Self-Sufficiency) as the BOSS Urban Gardening Institute (BUGI—aren’t acronyms fun?) and—with recent shifts in fundraising—is Spiral Gardens again. Daniel Miller and his allies plan to make the Sacramento Street complex serve its neighborhood in several ways. 

The back lot is being set up as a collective garden—not a traditional community garden with individuals’ plots, but a teaching and production spot where half of the harvest is divided among the gardeners who work it and half goes to the homeless and elderly, via several local facilities. 

The street-front nursery will specialize in “useful plants”—food, medicinals, and native plants for restoration sites. These sales will support the project. At the nursery gate, another part of the project happens on Tuesdays: a market for low-cost organic produce from local farmers. The neighborhood, like many urban places, lacks fresh produce stores. Miller and company surveyed the neighborhood door-to-door to find out what residents wanted most, and this is Spiral Gardens’ response. 

Plans for next steps include free classes in gardening, good eating, and community-building; and eventually, maybe, a well for irrigation. Miller says the site lies on ground with good water quality and a decently high water table. 

Volunteers are welcome; call or just drop by whenever you see anyone working in the garden.