Residents relying on fresh food from an East San Jose community farm won’t have to worry about produce anytime soon thanks to a 25-year extension from the city.
The San Jose City Council unanimously approved a 25-year contract Tuesday with Veggielution, a local nonprofit that runs an urban garden at Emma Prusch Farm Park.
Veggielution started in 2007 as part of a nationwide movement to grow healthy and fresh food for marginalized communities in urban spaces. In 2008, the nonprofit opened a space that now occupies six acres at Emma Prusch Farm Park.
“When the pandemic first broke out and we got the initial orders to shelter in place, it became a daunting task for residents who live on the east side of San Jose,” said Councilmember Magdalena Carrasco, whose district includes the community farm. “These were families that really depended on their local parks. Veggielution sits squarely in one of those communities… Veggielution was among the first to really meet the challenges we were facing.”
Veggielution offers environmental programs that help residents learn about agriculture, grow their business skills and cook new foods—all in the park. The nonprofit, along with the city’s parks department, holds summer youth camps and afterschool programs.
“It’s a wonderful thing to see, and we’d love to see it in more parks throughout our city, but this is a pretty amazing start,” Mayor Sam Liccardo said. “I’m a little disappointed we don’t see more of those… I’m hopeful we can find ways to engage more broadly in these agreements because there are many partners who want to engage with us.”
As part of the agreement, Veggielution will continue to teach youth farming, hold health and wellness classes, volunteer programs and cooking classes, among other activities.
“As we reflect on the past few years in the context of the pandemic, a racial reckoning and climate-related disasters, we recognize your partnership and your approval of this item today as an important statement of social, environmental and economic justice,” said Cayce Hill, executive director of Veggielution.
Eighteen Veggielution workers farm the land, and every first Saturday of the month the garden hosts one of its signature programs such as yoga, planting in the fields, art classes and eating freshly-picked produce from the Veggielution Cocina kitchen.
“Veggielution is an extraordinary example of utilizing open public space,” said resident Mary Helen Doherty. “I’m confident (the city) will continue to support (Veggielution’s) use of public land. Twenty-five more years of Veggielution is a continued blessing for our community.”
During the pandemic, Veggielution shifted part of its operations to food distribution, handing out up to 5,000 boxes of food weekly, according to a city memo.
According to a city memo, the Veggielution-run farm takes up six acres of a 47-acre city park along Highways 680 and 101. The park’s namesake, Emma Prusch, donated the land to the city in 1962.
“I think Emma Prusch should be very proud to see this agreement move forward,” Councilmember Maya Esparza said, reflecting on the programming and weekly events Veggielution provides. “When COVID hit, Veggielution stood up in a huge way.”
Volunteers maintain hundreds of fruit trees, a native flower garden and a German-themed kitchen garden at Emma Prusch Farm Park. Employees from the city parks department maintain and operate other programs at the site, including providing farm tours and hay wagon rides to elementary students.
Veggielution is also part of the Si Se Puede Collective, a four-organization coalition that provides services to underprivileged residents in East San Jose.
“Every Saturday I saw children’s faces light up as they went through our worm bin,” said Maricella Fuentes, spokesperson for Veggielution and the Si Se Puede Collective. “It’s on days like this that you see how important open space is for children and their families.”