A new growth strategy 

Stooped over a bed of young corn, three women notice every insect that comes to harm or help their recently opened gardening center near the foothills of Montara Mountain.

With several beds already covered by a green layer of vegetable sprouts, Melissa Moss, Melanie Heisler and Loretta O’Brien are planning out the rest of Pacifica Gardens on a school soccer field of the former Linda Mar School.

The women started the gardens on the unlikely 30,000-squarefoot plot of dry, abandoned land to create a rare combination of community garden beds, a local source of produce and an educational and research center.

"I see this as a value we can all share to create a healthier local community," said Moss, who worked as a professional dancer in San Francisco and a dance teacher at a local school before deciding to start a garden more than two years ago.

"We’re going to be teaching the community to help everyone learn how to grow food intheir backyards," she said.

The gardens will have community beds for rent, classes to demonstrate sustainable gardening techniques such as biointensive farming and permaculture, a food forest and a flower and herb garden.

O’Brien, the nonprofit gardens’ manager, said self-sustainability is an important part of what they hope to achieve — eventually, no water, nutrients or soil will need to be brought through the gardens’ fence.

Although they have gathered a pool of 25 volunteers, the gardeners also hope to establish a source of income by selling flowers, herbs and edible crops to the town’s restaurants and acupuncturists.

The gardens already have a beneficial agreement with the Pacifica School District — instead of paying rent, the nonprofit will provide 500 annual hours to local schools to help them create their own gardens.

"It’s important that children understand how things grow and what that means in terms of food production," district board member Joan Weideman said.

The gardeners said they will grow fruits, vegetables, legumes and grains that have never been grown on the coast. "We are going to have all the problems that small-scale farmers face," said Heisler, who is a master gardener.

svasilyuk@sfexaminer.com

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