CORRECTION: The name of a volunteer liaison at the Rinconada Community Garden was misspelled. It is Masood Ghassemi.
In an age when faster is better and attention spans are shortening, when people are hustling and smartphones demand quicker responses, the slow process of gardening can seem countercultural. To some, it may even seem unnecessary and inefficient.
And yet, the City of Palo Alto harbors three thriving community gardens scattered throughout the city, just for its residents.
In the last five to 10 years, there has been a national resurgence in gardening, which some community garden managers attribute to first lady Michelle Obama planting a garden at the White House.
But another reason, according to a local university researcher, may be simpler: local gardeners seek a way to engage in an enjoyable relaxing hobby that reduces stress.
At the Rinconada Community Garden on a weekday in the middle of the day, the sun is blazing and the garden is quiet. There are one or two people working in the garden, which is adjacent to the Palo Alto Art Center and the Rinconada Library. But on weekends, the activity picks up.
Masood Ghassemi, a volunteer liaison at the Rinconada Community Garden, has had a plot there for 15 years. He said very few people are aware of the existence of community gardens in Palo Alto and he wants to make sure people know about them, and that they are there for the residents' use and enjoyment.
"People get a lot of joy out of it when they use their hands on Saturdays. (Gardening is) kind of a diversion from day-to-day work," Ghassemi said.
As Catherine Bourquin, Garden Program Coordinator for the City of Palo Alto, and Ghassemi lead the way through the garden, they point out various fruits and vegetables, the primary plants grown in the garden.
This corroborates findings by researcher Lucy Diekmann, a postdoctoral student in Santa Clara University's Department of Environmental Studies and Sciences, in a survey she conducted to learn why people in Santa Clara County grow their own food, how they garden and the impact food gardens have. Diekmann's research shows that the main reasons people garden are to have fresh fruits and vegetables and to engage in an enjoyable hobby. Other reported motivations include spending time outdoors and physical exercise.
For many, a benefit to community gardens is quite simply community.
"When we're working here, we just get to know (our) neighbor. This one in here," Ghassemi said, pointing to a nearby plot, "He's a surgeon, and on the other side, he's a dermatologist."
Diekmann said that one gardener she spoke with had compared having a garden to having a new puppy because it helped to start a conversation with anyone.
"Community gardeners especially had met people from different backgrounds. People looked forward to socializing and interacting," Diekmann said.
In her research, 91 percent of gardeners said they met new people, 86 percent reported having met people from different backgrounds and 63 percent reported feeling a stronger sense of belonging in the community.
Of the three city-sponsored gardens in Palo Alto, Rinconada is the largest with 193 plots. And, unlike Eleanor Pardee Community Garden, which is a more private and secluded garden, Rinconada is completely open to the public.
In addition to fostering a sense of community, gardening cultivates an awareness and appreciation for fruits and vegetables. There's no comparison between the kale he grows in his garden and the kale he finds in the grocery store, Ghassemi said. The same goes for tomatoes.
"When you get tomatoes fresh from the ground and go home and eat (them), and then you get one from the store -- what a difference!" he said.
Diekmann reported that in interviews, a number of gardeners described wanting to start gardening because they wanted to make a positive change for their health, often by having more food that was organically grown and more vegetables in their diet.
The findings also show that the summer is a particularly fruitful time to be gardening, both from a health perspective and because gardeners usually grow more than they can eat so they often opt to share the bounty with friends, family, neighbors, charity and coworkers.
Palo Alto's community gardens
• Rinconada Community Garden, 1213 Newell Road (behind the Rinconada Library)
• Eleanor Pardee Garden, 1201 Channing Avenue (located in Eleanor Pardee Park)
• Edith Johnson Garden, 200 Waverley St., (located in Johnson Park)
To sign up for your own plot, contact Catherine Bourquin at firstname.lastname@example.org. Plots are 75 cents per square foot and there is a $100 refundable deposit. Members are required to attend two, two-hour work days a year between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. on given weekends.