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Fresh Produce Comes To Linda Vista

— The land that surrounds the Bayside Community Center in Linda Vista, on the edge of Tecolote Canyon, is home to lots of rental housing, abandoned lots and strip mall parking lots. But if you see it with an inspired view, it’s a perfect place to grow healthy food and sell it.

Jorge Riquelme and Janice Pezzoli stand near the edge of Tecolote Canyon, where the Bayside Community Center plans to create a new urban garden. July 21, 2011.
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Above: Jorge Riquelme and Janice Pezzoli stand near the edge of Tecolote Canyon, where the Bayside Community Center plans to create a new urban garden. July 21, 2011.

Today this landscape plays host to two events: The groundbreaking for a new community garden, and the grand opening of Linda Vista’s first farmer’s market. Jorge Riquelme is the executive director of the Bayside Community Center, and he says the backside of the center’s property will be the site of the Linda Vista Neighborhood Garden.

“It was a dump. We had containers and leftovers of everything,” he said, adding that a group of community members, months ago, decided it would be a great place for a community garden.

“I wasn’t expecting much. But this area suddenly became clear. Week after week people were removing brush, trees, rocks garbage,” said Riquelme.

The creation of a community garden, and a farmer’s market, are part of a national movement to bring fresh vegetables to the inner city; especially low-income neighborhoods like Linda Vista, which is a destination for thousands of immigrants.

The Linda Vista Neighborhood Garden, as it now stands, is not impressively large. Riquelme said it’s only about 2,000 square feet. But that, alone, required some hard labor and some political lobbying.

The City of San Diego used to charge communities $5,000 to apply for a conditional use permit to allow them to move forward with community gardens. Riquelme said Linda Vista worked with its city council representative to eliminate the requirement. Now, the city council is also considering a proposal to allow urban farms to operate as commercial operations, and allow them to keep flocks of chickens, goats and bee colonies.

The “vision” in Linda Vista becomes clear as you look beyond the community garden and imagine what it could become. On one side is a plot of empty land that may go up for sale. A seven-acre mesa, on the edge of Tecolote Canyon, is owned by the local school district. Riquelme said that could become urban farmland under a joint-use agreement.

“We’re trying to take a step forward to integrate land that is sitting idle, and should be accessible to the community,” he said.

The residents of Linda Vista belong to many immigrant groups – Hmong, Vietnamese and Latino groups that include a Mixtec Indian community. Janice Pezzoli is the coordinator of the community garden program at Bayside Community Center. She said these immigrants come from agricultural backgrounds, and some of them are eager to put their skills to work.

“If the space is big enough, and they can grow vegetables, they can get a permit through the (San Diego County) Farm Bureau and sell at the farmer’s market,” said Pezzoli.

The Linda Vista farmer’s market, which kicked off today, is something that’s never been done in the neighborhood before. Vendors set up shop in the parking lot of a strip mall on Linda Vista Road. So far none of the vendors come from the neighborhood.

But if the Linda Vista Neighborhood Garden succeeds and expands, the local farmer’s market could be supplied by garden plots a few blocks away. That’s the vision.

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