Many food prices have skyrocketed amid inflation and a statewide drought is leaving cities in the Tri-Valley in emergency situations causing people to limit their outdoor water use.
However, one project slated to break ground in fall is aiming to help Pleasanton residents grow their own food in a sustainable, water-conserving manner -- a community garden and farm at the Bernal Community Park.
"In Pleasanton, we're looking back at our heritage and our roots, but we're also looking forward to teaching adults and children alike about farming," Pleasanton Mayor Karla Brown said. "Having these community garden boxes so you can grow your own tomatoes and you can grow your own squashes. I'm pretty excited about it."
The Bernal Park Community Farm is a project that was first introduced in 2006.
Pleasanton voters ratified the Bernal Property Phase II Specific Plan through the approval of Measure P in 2006, which included a land use plan separating the property into multiple sub-areas.
That plan, which added projects such as the oak woodland trails, playgrounds and turf sports fields to the park, also included a plan for the farm.
The community farm would cover two of the 17 sub-areas designated in the specific plan. The first is about five acres of land located along Laguna Creek Lane on the east side of interstate 680 into a community farm and garden.
The other is set to be about 10 acres located on the west side of I-680 and will be used to plant orchard trees, vineyards and other native trees.
In the smaller, 5-acre site, the plan is to include garden plots that residents can rent, an educational center to train people on gardening skills, and the community garden that will offer educational opportunities through workshops.
Brown said that she's excited to see agrarian farming coming back to Pleasanton given the long history of farming in the area.
"Much of this area used to be all farming, cattle and farming," Brown said. "It will be a bit of a look back into our history."
The community garden is a project led by the University of California Master Gardener Program of Alameda County, a group of volunteers that train individuals in the science and art of gardening.
The 1.32-acre site will have educational gardens so master gardeners can teach residents about different gardening techniques like composting and mulching, efficient irrigation practices and classes on growing plants from your balcony if you don't own a backyard.
But the overall farm and community garden is still in the very early stages of development.
Recently, the group got the funding from the Pleasanton City Council to get started with a "Phase 0" stage of the community farm master plan. This initial stage of building the farm includes the master gardeners planting what's known as a cover crop.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, these are crops such as corn or soybeans that are usually established and grown in the fall to increase the quality of the soil.
Lou Astbury, one of the volunteer master gardeners, told the Weekly that planting these cover crops will allow them to come back in spring to nutrient-rich soil that will let them start laying down the educational gardens.
"Normally, a cover crop is something you do like in California, during the rainy season, and it doesn't really need much irrigation," Astbury said. "So we'll have grasses that will shed roots down like, six, seven feet, to kind of open up and break the soil and improve water penetration."
He added that the cover crop will be "a mix of seeds and it's going to be a part of wildflowers, which will attract a lot of different kinds of pollinators."
Astbury said that he has been working with the master gardeners on this project since 2016 and is now mainly working on getting new City Manager Gerry Beaudin and other new city staff members up to speed.
The timeline of completion for the garden and then overall community farm will take some time as there are several phases to the project.
Jennifer Miller, a management analyst with the city's Community Development Department, told the Weekly that since the specific plan was approved in 2006, the project has gone from being presented as a conceptual plan in 2014, to the Pleasanton Community Farm Master Plan being approved by the council in 2018.
Miller said that in the initial "Phase 0" stage of the process, the city agreed to allocate $70,000 out of the already allocated $350,000 for the project that will be coming out of the city's capital improvement funds, which were approved in this year's budget review.
The funds will support the master gardeners program in planting the cover crops and installing their portion of the farm which includes the educational gardens.
Miller added that any future costs or capital investment by the city toward the farm would be determined by the City Council in future council priorities planning and capital improvement program budgeting processes.
"While it is expected the city will have future ongoing operational expenditures associated with the various phases of the community farm, those costs would be determined as those phases are designed and constructed," Miller said.
According to the farm master plan documents, the next phases after establishing the gardens, parking and general infrastructure will be building the garden plots for residents to reserve, building the areas for the orchards and other trees, and constructing an educational learning center that will be run by the city and the master gardeners.
Astbury said that the city and the master gardeners also want to collaborate with the Pleasanton Unified School District in offering students classes and educational programs at the center.
Astbury said that with cities having to follow new composting laws, it is crucial to have the educational space so people can know how to use that excess compost to their advantage.
But the main reason that Astbury said he is excited about the garden is that it will be a way for Pleasanton residents to learn about sustainable farming so that they can go home and help the environment by growing their own food.
He also said that adding the farm and garden to the park will satisfy a niche for families to have something to do together that will not just benefit their daily lives, but the overall well being of the environment.
"I think that when you can grow your own food you can do it in a way that doesn't really hurt the environment, it actually helps the environment in terms of taking carbon out of the atmosphere, taking better care of the soil," he said. "I just think there's a lot of benefits, it's healthy food and it's a healthy activity for a family together."