Real Estate

Reaping the benefits of gardening

Local farming enthusiast Pam Scott teaches hands-on class

Growing up as an "army brat," Pam Scott recalled moving around the country in her youth. While her state of residence continuously changed, one thing remained constant.

"No matter where we lived my mom always had a veggie garden," Scott said.

Currently Scott is a volunteer teacher through Common Ground Organic Garden Supply and Education Center, teaching a class called "Hands-on Farming" from her Los Altos Hills home. She works alongside three other volunteers -- Julie Hyde, Deane Shokes and Anna Teeples -- focusing the class on a variety of skills from making soil to raising chickens.

Scott wasn't always so immersed in gardening. After studying industrial design at Auburn University, she became a creative ad consultant for large corporations, such as Nike. Today she primarily works with start-up and nonprofit companies.

But when she moved to Northern California in 2003, she began taking classes at Common Ground. There her love of growing fruits and vegetables bloomed.

"The class gave me a lot of confidence," Scott said. "I got my gardening mojo."

She also began writing about food, foraging and how to maintain sustainable living, serving as a contributor to Edible Magazine for the past year.

After continuous practice and work, Scott's 1-acre home is thriving with numerous greens like kale, basil and arugula as well as citrus trees. She explained a lot of her garden's success comes from maintaining great soil.

"If your soil is not thriving, nothing will grow in your garden," she said.

The key to having great soil means having a lot of worms and incorporating it with compost, she added. Scott makes compost by combining scraps from her kitchen, dryer and grass. "It feels good to bring everything back to the soil."

Scott has successfully grown more than half of the food that she and her husband eat. Some of her favorite foods grown in her garden are avocados, cherry tomatoes and pomegranate. Scott remarked that "to have a pomegranate right from the tree makes you swoon."

August, September and October are the most fruitful months out of the year for Scott's garden. Her produce then is so excessive these months that it goes from her kitchen table to people who are less fortunate.

For those who have their own gardens, Scott said, "Find a food bank near by, and take your surplus."

She explained that she gets as much out of sharing the wealth of healthy produce as watching her plants grow. Scott recalled going to the food bank and giving a little boy one of her cherry tomatoes and seeing his face light up with appreciation.

The benefits of gardening are substantial according to Scott: from saving money to savoring better-tasting, quality produce.

"The sooner you can eat a tomato (for example) after it being picked the better it is," she said, adding that type of quality cannot be found at a grocery store.

Aside from tending to her garden, Scott also has a chicken coop, which produces a number of fresh eggs. She explained that she is not yet "an expert chicken mama," but she is continuing to learn how to raise them and maintain a clean environment.

Now with five years of teaching under her belt, Scott still considers herself just as much a student as a teacher. She remembers loving learning about gardening from her mother growing up. There is always something new to learn and different things to try, according to Scott. The current drought has afforded one of those learning experiences.

"I am figuring out how little I can water my plants and seeing how much food I can get without stressing them out in this drought," she said.

The class is broken up into four sections, in which students have the opportunity to rotate and try different learning activities. There are activities based on raising chickens, making compost and doing straw-bale gardening, in which soil is not needed and plants grow in bundles of hay. The class concludes with a tour of the farm.

Scott teaches because she does it out of love and passion, she said. "I like seeing the lights go off in people, and seeing their reactions."

She admitted that gardening and farming is not simple or easy. "There is always something that doesn't grow," Scott said. "Expect failure and don't be afraid of it. ... Gardening is an exercise of humility."

What: Hands-on Farming Instruction

When: Sunday, June 1, 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Where: A home in Los Altos Hills; class directions given when registered

Cost: $39

Info: Common Ground or call 650-493-6072

Editorial Intern Melissa Landeros can be emailed at

We can't do it without you.
Support local journalism.


Like this comment
Posted by Jody Scott
a resident of Community Center
on May 26, 2014 at 4:37 pm

Loved your article Pam, excellent. You give me more credit than I deserve but the joy of gardening runs deep In both of us and I love to think that even as you were a toddler something was ignited!!!

I love you only as a devoted mama can! I also love the man you married and it's awesome to see his pleasure in being very much a part of the farm team scene!!!

We are having a marvelous visit to W.P. and Lorne has been a charming host. We attended a beautiful reception at the Superintendent's qtrs this afternoon. Unbelievably HOT, no different than south GA. Made the HOUR long wait in line very unpleasant but the lovely event in the Supes garden was splendid indeed.

Lorne graduates on Wednesday and has to be GONE from W.P. by 7 pm that night. He reports for Infantry school at Bennington 26 June. Barb, David and I fly back to ATL on Thurs.

Time to ck in with your Daddy!!! Huge love to you both. I'd add "T" to this but I don!t know how,boo hiss. Mama Jo

Like this comment
Posted by Water Conscious
a resident of Professorville
on May 26, 2014 at 4:41 pm

I cannot help wondering if you get letters from the utility dept asking you to reduce or cease your summer vegetable gardening, as we have the past two summers. This year they actually sent us a letter in April asking us NOT to plant a garden at all, that vegetables " require too much irrigation." !

Like this comment
Posted by Long Time Resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 26, 2014 at 10:31 pm

Residents of Los Altos Hills use more water per capita than other local cities due to their large parcels of land.

Purissima Hills Water District supplies 2/3 of Los Altos Hills with water. In 2010, the residents of Los Altos Hills used about 302 gallons/day, compared to Palo Alto residents usage of 104 gallons/day, and Mt.View at 78 gallons/day.

Per Purissima Hills Water District's website:
"Purissima Hills Water District receives 100% of its water supply from snowmelt in the Sierra Nevada Mountains which is stored in the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir. The District purchases this water from the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) which delivers it to Los Altos Hills through a gravity-fed 18" transmission main. The water is then pumped to 10 storage tanks located throughout the Town for distribution to customers."

Planting watermelons and having an extravagant garden seems like a rather thoughtless thing to do, when we are in the middle of a severe drought.
We need to share the snow melt from the Sierra's with all the other resident's in this area who receive water from SFPUC (Hetch Hetchy).

My family decided to let our landscape die back during the 2008 drought. When the rains returned, we re-planted with drought tolerant (mostly native) species.

As much as we would love a vegetable and flower garden, it is a costly and rather selfish act, when this precious water must travel so far to make it to our homes.

Just sayin

Like this comment
Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on May 27, 2014 at 12:09 pm

Hmmm is a registered user.

I am glad that that article mentions this: For those who have their own gardens, Scott said, "Find a food bank near by, and take your surplus."
I know people who also take their extras to a local senior center.

What about the watering requirements for all of the golf courses, sports fields and other athletic areas in the region? They don't feed anyone, but those lawns are still lush. All those houses in Atherton with yards and yards of green lawn, of course still lush in the drought. Why should Pam Scott be picked on when she's teaching others and growing food?

Like this comment
Posted by Water Conscious
a resident of Professorville
on May 28, 2014 at 9:29 am

The CPA Utilities Dept is picking on anyone with a garden or more than two people in their home!

We consume ALL of the vegetables we grow, have no lawn, have drought resistant plants in our front yard, hand wash most of our dishes, use disposable plates and cutlery as much as possible, have low-flow toilets and showers, and an HE washer. Still, we get accusatory letters from the CPA Utilities Dept chastising us for using too much water. HA! Only the babies bathe at home, and not even on a daily basis. The rest of us shower at the gym.

I often think that the CPAUD makes this stuff up, because the only family I know of in town that hasn't received a nasty letter is using a well for irrigation, laundry, etc.....basically everything but drinking and cooking.

Like this comment
Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 29, 2014 at 12:01 am

In the documentary "Fresh" there is a quote that said something like we have depleted our soil to such an extent in the US that a lot of produce only has about 60% or the nutrition that it used to have 50 years ago.

Hey, we are supposed to be getting better, always improving, and yet if we can use artificial flavors and colors all that goes out the window and we are killing ourselves for this junk. And there is simply no reason for it other than the concentrate wealth, power and control in the hands of a few who have shown over and over their unsuitability for governing and civic minded decision-making.

Like this comment
Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 29, 2014 at 12:09 am

Long Time Resident
>> Planting watermelons and having an extravagant garden seems like a rather thoughtless thing to do, when we are in the middle of a severe drought.

Are you saying watermelons should not be grown? If you go to the store to buy them just think about how much water is wasted in their production. They are grown in a field where water is shot through the air, much of it missing the plant and evaporating. The machinery that is used to plant and harvest that produce uses more oil, and water in the process of getting that oil. The watermelons are then picked and transported and sit in stores, usually over or under ripe and a good percentage of them go bad or never were that good to begin with.

Growing food locally, as locally as possible is a big win and many different dimensions. Did that not occur to you LTR?

I have to also agree with "Water Conscious" ... the City is crazy. I have know for a fact I use a fraction of the utilities that my neighbors do, and I constantly get those letters that we trying to tell me I'm a major user of water, power and gas. However they are generating these letters of this data there is something very screwing going on.

Like this comment
Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 29, 2014 at 12:30 am

So, this is basically a commercial for someone's home classes at $39 a pop? Wow, that's a lot of lettuce.

Like this comment
Posted by Water Conscious
a resident of Professorville
on May 29, 2014 at 10:27 am

Thanx, CPA, I knew I wasn't losing my mind. But something really stinks at CPAUD.

Like this comment
Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 29, 2014 at 5:51 pm

Water Conscious, my neighbors tell me they get these letter's too? We can't all be above average, this is not Lake Wobegone.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

Don't be the last to know

Get the latest headlines sent straight to your inbox every day.

If you do nothing else, do These Three Things
By Sherry Listgarten | 43 comments | 2,245 views

Lentil Brownies
By Laura Stec | 5 comments | 706 views

Finding Balance
By Cheryl Bac | 0 comments | 346 views

Reflections on Pal0 Alto's Centennial -- now it's the city's 125th birthday!
By Diana Diamond | 3 comments | 134 views


Vote now!

It's time once again to cast your vote for the best places to eat, drink, shop and spend time in Palo Alto. Voting is open now through May 27. Watch for the results of our 2019 Best Of contest on Friday, July 19.