Although plans to resume construction at the Viet Heritage Garden remain on hold, residents can now enjoy farming vegetables and herbs at a community garden at the corner of the vacant land.
Roughly 50 residents joined Councilmember Maya Esparza in celebrating the opening of the community garden Saturday morning.
“Happy New Year, and thank you for this garden,” East San Jose resident Ha Trieu told the councilmember as they greeted at the event.
The opening of the community garden, where residents can grow vegetables and connect with their neighbors, signals a new chapter for the Viet Heritage Garden. The four-acre plot of land where the heritage garden sits has been vacant and collecting graffiti since construction at the site halted in 2016.
Nearby residents had previously turned the empty lot on the corner of Roberts Avenue into a makeshift community garden. Although the garden was limited to a few plots, the location became a gathering place for Vietnamese seniors in the area, residents at the event said.
In 2021, the city decided to expand on the community’s efforts, upgrading the garden with a new water system and adding amenities such as a drinking fountain and a portable bathroom.
“The old garden we had here was super small,” East San Jose resident Hong Ly told told San José Spotlight in Vietnamese. Ly and her mom shared a plot where they grew bottle gourds and cucumbers, among other things. “I love this because it’s a good way to get some exercises in and share our gardening hobby with others.”
On Saturday, as laughter and excitement filled the air, Esparza joined other city officials and East San Jose residents in opening the much-anticipated community garden program.
“This is a special place,” Esparza said of the Viet Heritage Garden. “We wanted to really invest in this beautiful community garden space and and honor the importance of this space.”
The idea to open a community garden at the corner of Roberts Avenue and Roberts Place started in 2019, but the project was shelved because of the pandemic, Esparza said.
Que Tran, a senior resident who lives across the street from the Viet Heritage Garden, is among a few who grew vegetables and herbs at the site in previous years. She’s excited to start her crop at the new garden.
“This is a great thing, especially for seniors,” Tran told San José Spotlight in Vietnamese, adding that seeing her friends at the community garden in the past helped her get through the loneliness during the pandemic. “I’m so glad the city is expanding it. The more the merrier.”
The Viet Heritage Garden, a separate project from the community garden, is a decades-long undertaking. Construction stopped in 2016, and the site will remain empty as the city continues to search for funding to finish the project. According to the city, it would take roughly $14.7 million to add restrooms, walkways, benches and traditional Vietnamese structures envisioned by the community.
The community garden in District 7 is the newest addition to a list of 20 community gardens across the city, some of which have provided a place for residents to grow vegetables since 1977. The majority of garden plots at the Viet Heritage Garden are about 100 square feet, with each costing an annual fee of $48, city officials said.
Tam Nguyen, who also lives across the street from the Viet Heritage Garden, said he loves gardening but has no space in his apartment. He spent about $1,000 on renting garden plots in a different program last year. He’s happy to see the low price at the new garden.
“Gardening is such a joyful activity,” Nguyen said, adding he will share his new community garden plot with his daughter and two friends. “Sometimes we grow so much we have to give things away. Our friends and families always love that.”
Khanh Tran, who helped manage the old garden, was nominated by participants at the event to be a liaison with the city.
“Thank you to our elected officials for investing in our community,” Khanh Tran said. Our garden might not be very big, but I have no doubt that it will help bring us together and strengthen the bond in our community.”