SAN FRANCISCO – These days, In Chan Kaajal Community Garden is cultivating more than carrots and corn for the Mission District. On Sunday, the community garden located on 17th and Folsom received the Livability Award for its role in creating a cohesive neighborhood hub for one of the most diverse cross-sections of the city.
Presented by Livable City, the Livability Awards honor individuals and institutions who have made an outstanding contribution to San Francisco’s livability, with a focus on land use, environment, public health, and social equity. Since 2011, the awards have recognized grassroots biodiversity advocates, organizations and activists working to improve quality of life for seniors and youth, along with policy-makers, city planners and legislators.
“Livable City is so excited to award In Chan Kaajal as a Community Leader in Action. Green space, public parks and community gardens aren’t just pretty or nice to have – they’re key to creating an equitable city with opportunities for recreation, advancing public health, building community and connecting with nature in an urban environment,” said Livable City Associate Director Katy Birnbaum.
Opened in June 2017, In Chan Kaajal brought much-needed green space, a community garden, a performance stage, gym area and playground to a dense, diverse neighborhood that was searching for a welcoming communal space. The creation of the park involved input from over 350 neighborhood residents and dozens of local community organizations, including People Organizing to Demand Environmental and Economic Justice (PODER). A committed group of volunteers have since transformed the garden into a thriving cultural center, with members representing nations across the globe, spanning generations and socioeconomic backgrounds. The group regularly hosts cultural events and provides produce that is often difficult to find in commercial grocery stores. The 2018 harvest yielded over 1000 pounds of food, all of it distributed to garden members and the broader community.
San Francisco Recreation and Park General Manager Phil Ginsburg reflected on the remarkable transformation of the space from parking lot to public park.
“We’re honored to provide a space that serves this community far beyond its previous use as a parking lot,” said Ginsburg. “Beyond fresh, culturally relevant foods, In Chan Kaajal sows deep connections to nature and neighbors, with impacts reaching far beyond the garden gates. This is a special place and a special group of people that deserve to be honored for their work.”
“What this garden provides goes far beyond fresh food,” said Andrea Combet, a member of the In Chan Kaajal Community Garden steering committee. “One of our group projects last year was a Native American-style “Three Sisters” planting of corn, beans, and pumpkins. The corn patch was like a magnet: it attracted all kinds of neighbors who wanted to tell us how corn was grown and used in their birthplaces. They shared lore from Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Ethiopia, as well as the US South and Midwest. People used the leaves and husks for tamales, and later we ground the dried kernels into masa meal and made tortillas right here in the park. An experience like that bonds the community in a profound way. Our members appreciate the recognition of the Livability Award, as well as the fact that SF Recreation and Park has provided the setting for gardeners to connect with the earth and with each other.”
The Rec and Park Department supports and manages a program of 40 community gardens (and growing!) on City-owned property, where members can grow produce and ornamental plants for personal use. Each garden is operated by a group of committed volunteers, and membership fees are often self-imposed to cover common expenses.