Apple Core Project (APC) has officially opened its gates to its newly upgraded community garden on Grace Street, in North East Bakersfield. Every Monday and Thursday, between 9 am-12 pm, the community is invited to help with the garden revitalization.
“We were actually in a meeting in here [gesturing to the structure overlooking the garden] talking about a program we had been running for five years at the Residence Inn on Union where we did food outreach monthly for five years straight, and we had kind of a rough night of it, so we had a meeting to really strategize and try to get better. One of the guys said, ‘Hey look at this lot out here, you should put a garden there,’” stated Jaclyn Allen, the founder of APC.
In late 2011, with the first annual Kern Kringle Christmas event, APC was founded. With the start of the 2020 pandemic, APC began its impromptu community garden. Allen describes the garden as being the organization’s “COVID baby.”
Allen is an involved community member known for having fun and promoting sustainable living. Farmer’s markets at Haggin Oaks, Brimhall, and Downtown are run by Allen and their team. APC has partnered with multiple organizations such as the Community Action Partnership of Kern (CAPK), Kern Healthy Families, Bakersfield Recovery Services, Edible Schoolyard, and the Department of Human Services Kern. Recently, Chipman Jr. High School hosted Allen to talk about sustainable food practices, and flyers about CalFresh food benefits were handed out.
“I was already doing food distribution, nutrition, and positive lifestyle [training] with [Lincoln Street Retreat Perinatal Services], ladies that are entering rehabilitation while pregnant, so I was doing weekly lunch-in classes with the ladies,” Allen continued.
When COVID-19 hit, the APC team was struggling to find a way to continue their funded food pantries, which were originally for local schools. The APC predicted that the added burden of delivery costs was going to exceed that grant amount given by benefactors such as Kaiser Permanente.
Allen said the process to revitalize the empty lot was made simpler thanks to fellow philanthropists.
Miquel Elliot, also known as Sir Cobalot, met Allen through the farmer’s market. Allen asked Elliot to help the APC and the surrounding sober living homes to create an earth structure out of Cob material so garden participants can cook the food they cultivate right on sight.
“Cob is the material I work with. Cob is like Adobe, it’s a mixture of sand, clay, and straw,” Elliot explained. “I’m pretty sure out of all the building techniques I’ve come across it’s the fastest, most affordable, most fire resilient, easiest to build, moveable, aesthetically beautiful – there’s so many benefits.”
You can learn more about the garden’s oven earth structures made by Elliot and other community members by visiting livingearthstructures.com.
Elliot also wanted the public to know that he works with pallets and plastic trash to create new alternatives to ‘tiny’ living. Similar to the cob oven, Elliot works with pallets and cob to help beautify unhoused encampments using materials found already in the community. Most times Elliot is able to work with the individuals who will be using the earth structure, claiming that participation can help mental health. Most residents helping out with the garden have told Elliot it has been therapeutic.
Elliot looks forward to continued work with the Kern Recovery Services KRS, APC, and other surrounding sober living housing to potentially create more earth structures or a meditation hut.
At Grace Street community garden people of all ages are encouraged to get their hands dirty growing, building, cultivating, and cooking.
“I think every kid, by the time they graduate from sixth grade, should know how to use earth as a building material,” said Elliot.
Before the upgrades to the garden, including the cob oven, there were 30 rows of vegetables. However, there were no raised garden beds, connected lines for watering, or a functional way to keep weeds and pests away. Now, many of those issues have been solved. The garden’s plans incorporate accessibility through more leveled open spaces for events and vertical planting techniques.
Most of the heavy lifting and labor completed has been thanks to one special APC employee Whitnie Felkins, who left her office job to pursue the nonprofit in hopes of a more fulfilling life.
“I think that working an office job for over five years, and not really being in tune with the community and with what’s going on [around the world], it was really nice to be involved and see what’s going on in the community. People need our help. People are out here suffering. I really enjoy being a part of a nonprofit that strives to make this world a better place,” Felkins stated about her time with APC.
Both Allen and Felkins mentioned that for some Kern residents their neighborhoods can resemble a food desert, meaning that there is little to no access to fresh healthy groceries.
“What’s happening is that the neighborhood is becoming hyper-aware of us, and they’re not upset we blocked their driveways with this big food line [during their Grace Street food distribution]. They are starting to join in, and we see an opportunity in the coming year to be an education and resource center,” Allen further stated, “There’s more people than access to stores…and definitely not having transportation accessibility to those [distribution sites].”
Allen donates when possible any extra food after farmer’s markets and food distributions to the pantries around town such as Bakersfield College’s Renegade Pantry.
“A lot of agencies want to come to my farmer’s markets, but they’re in more affluent neighborhoods. So it’s not likely you’re going to sign up a bunch of people to CalFresh in Haggin Oaks. [Low income or food insecure areas] need that service of being able to have the person on site, and actually get signed up for benefits, or have that face time with [experts] and accessibility in the neighborhoods that need it,” said Allen.
Allen plans to spend the next decade focusing on changing governmental policies that affect Kern families’ access to healthy food. The garden has Allen excited for more culturally relevant marketplaces with more diverse choices in produce.
“We need more boots on the ground helping out,” said Allen. “We’re in uncharted territory, as far as the world goes, and we need to continue to empower ourselves and detach from social concepts and devices and be more active with real humanity.”