Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Clairemont Produce Cooperative Builds Meals and Community

On the second Saturday of each month a dozen or so home gardeners who live in San Diego's  Clairemont community begin to gather around 9 a.m., bulging bags and baskets in hand. They're bearing the fruit of their labor to share with one another. The group, the Clairemont Produce Cooperative, or CPC, was started in 2011 by Lisa Raggio, who hosts the monthly exchange at her hilltop home. She got the idea for it around the time of Los Angeles' "Carmegeddon," thinking about how ridiculous it was that people today are so dependent on cars to have the basics on hand, like food. And since few people can grow everything, wouldn't it be nice to get neighbors together to share with one another.

"I wrote an article in the Clairemont community newspaper about this idea and invited people to meet me at the local Starbucks. Ten people showed up."

Raggio, who works in marketing at Graphic Solutions, publicizes CPC at the annual Clairemont Garden Tour and Clairemont Family Day.

Members John and Joan Brosnan, who have lived in Clairemont for 24 years, just learned about CPC last spring at the garden tour. "It's a neat way to share what we grow, learn tips for growing and dealing with insects, and see what people are growing," the couple, who finish each other's sentences, said. In their garden, they grow butternut squash, tomatoes, cantaloupes, banana peppers, green beans, herbs, and a variety of fruit trees.

At the August meeting, the offerings gradually expanded into an impressive bounty of figs, tomatoes, grapes, lemons, eggplant, mint, rosemary, both Cuban and Italian oregano, chilies of all kinds, bay leaves, kale, summer squash and zucchini, radishes, string beans, and even eggs. Someone brought sweet pea seeds and peas to plant, with instructions. And there was a brown paper bag filled with milkweed pods for people to take to attract butterflies and bees.

Spread along Raggio's outdoor grilling counter, the produce eventually is divvied up equally among the participants who can then do some trading if they'd rather have more or less of something. Over the course of the morning they enjoy refreshments Raggio puts out and chat about their garden experiences, the produce they've grown, and recipe suggestions and tips.

Four times a year the group holds potlucks with speakers. Among the group are master gardeners, but they've also had Farmer Bill of City Farmers Nursery in to speak. Member Michelle Innis gave a shitake mushroom presentation earlier in the year.

Another member, Sue Gerson, isn't the family gardener. Her husband is. But he has another standing commitment on Saturday mornings so Gerson, who says she's the harvester and cook, attends. "I saw a notice about it six or seven years ago in July," she said. "We live near Mesa College and grow a lot of stuff on our multi-level hillside. Today I just brought cherry tomatoes and rosemary. Usually I bring dates but they've dried out now.

"It's a community thing," she added. "I like the idea of a neighborhood community group where we grow our own stuff and it's all organic.

Raggio sends out an email at the beginning of the month to members, who need to RSVP so she can then send a final head count to recipients so they know how much to bring.

"The best part is we learn about fruits and vegetables not in the market. The rare ones. And we learn from one another how to grow them. There's such diversity in what's grown and brought here, thanks to the various microclimates here, not to mention that everyone's garden gets different light exposure," Raggio said.

"Then there's the community part of it," she added. "There are no nicer people than people who grow."

If you live in Clairemont and are interested in joining the CPC, contact Raggio at j.raggio@att.net. Do you know of another community produce cooperative in San Diego? Let me know about it!

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