The current owners of the site where the Homeless Garden Project (HGP) Natural Bridges Farm has been operating since 1995 have been very generous landlords providing a temporary month-to-month lease for HGP. They are now actively planning to develop the property for a different use in the next few years.
The HGP Board has determined that the timing is excellent to initiate this move and create a permanent home for our farm activities and employment training programs. A recent fundraising feasibility and planning study indicates that HGP has the necessary leadership and donors to accomplish this move.
Why the Pogonip?
In 1998, the City of Santa Cruz approved Pogonip Master Plan and designated space for the Homeless Garden Project farm in the city’s greenbelt, more than tripling the size of farmable land to almost nine acres. The City of Santa Cruz is offering HGP an initial 20-year lease on the property, which is renewable for three, five-year periods (for a total of 35 years) after which time it may be extended further.
What impact will this have on homelessness in Santa Cruz?
In the 2017 survey of homeless in our county, one quarter of the sample of people experiencing homelessness surveyed reported job loss as the primary cause of their homelessness; the single highest reason cited. For 28 years, Homeless Garden Project has developed unique programs to provide an effective and holistic approach to support individuals who face barriers to employment and housing to help them live more productive, fulfilling lives.
Some examples of HGP’s impact are as follows:
● 100% of 2018 trainee graduates obtained stable employment and housing within 3 months of graduation. 91% of trainee graduates in 2016 obtained stable employment and housing within 3 months of graduation. In 2015 92% of trainee graduates
● Trainees continually demonstrate that they can turn around their lives with the tools they gain in our one-year program.
Relocating to the Pogonip will allow HGP to initially double and later triple the number of people we serve each year so that more people are able to move into gainful employment and stable lives.
Will the new location change your farm production?
Yes, it will offer a number of new opportunities. As described earlier, the first and most important, it will dramatically increase the number of HGP trainees each year. Second, the increased acreage will allow HGP to grow more food for underserved populations. Finally, the permanent site will enable us to invest in long-term perennial crops such as fruit trees and vines. The additional acreage will also support the production of more varieties of vegetables, herbs, and flowers. We look forward to planting orchards of apples, stone fruit, and blackberries.
Increased farm production and new varieties will also allow us to diversify our “Value-added” product line, creating new products such as jams, chutneys and other new food products by “adding value” to the raw agricultural products through preserving, drying, and other processing techniques.
What impact will the move have on community engagement with HGP?
Connecting the community is essential to HGP’s mission and the move to Pogonip will expand these opportunities including engagement by schools and youth, seniors, church groups, and families.
Each year as many as 3,000 volunteers provide over 16,000 hours of service through the farm/garden, farm stand, artisan workshop, and retail gift shop. We will be able to expand these programs as well as our public education programs.
Will Pogonip Farm still have a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program?
Yes. The new location will improve our ability to generate sustaining revenue through our CSA program, farm stand, and retail store sales. Because our farm acreage will triple, it will provide additional food for the CSA program and farm stand. It will also provide opportunities to create new value added products which we will sell at our retail and online stores.
How will people get to Pogonip Farm?
The new site provides public access by foot, bus, bike, and car for trainees and other members of the community. The site is also close to the Homeless Services Center and Rebele Family Shelter, which provides services that a number of our trainees use.
How will Pogonip Farm operate as a good steward of city open space?
Sustainability and protection of natural ecosystems are at the core of what we do. As a CCOF-certified organic farm, Pogonip Farm will be designed and managed to operate in symbiosis with the Pogonip’s natural ecosystems. It will not only be operated in compliance with all local, state, and federal regulations, but will incorporate best practices.
As representatives of the Homeless Garden Project, our trainees take pride in learning and practicing principles of sustainability and being good stewards of the land. Belonging to this common cause provides meaning and a sense of accomplishment to all of us at Homeless Garden Project.
Farming operations will actively build soil health through the use of winter cover crops, composting, and other proven organic farming practices. We will conserve water through the use of high efficiency drip irrigation systems that minimize water loss to evaporation and runoff.
Pest management will focus on natural pest controls. A diverse farm environment (including hedgerows, windbreaks, and flowering plants) will provide habitat for beneficial insects (such as ladybugs and lacewings) that keep pest populations in check. It will also support critical habitat for pollinators such as honeybees.
Additional detail will be available about how HGP plans for the protection and stewardship of the natural ecosystem in Pogonip at our website.
Will Pogonip Farm have an impact on area wildlife?
In response to the project’s Environmental Impact Report, the Pogonip Farm operational plan includes measures to mitigate the impact on wildlife. Fencing will be designed and installed to exclude animals such as deer from farmed areas, while at the same time providing wildlife corridors for animals such as coyotes and bobcats. We will also implement a coastal prairie mitigation and management plan to protect and improve critical local natural habitat.
How will the Project make Pogonip safer?
The positive presence of the Homeless Garden Project’s farm in Pogonip will enhance security and public safety; the Santa Cruz City Police Department expects a reduction in drug use and camping due to the active presence of farm programs. The farm will be fenced and will provide site security to prevent vandalism and theft. Ongoing collaborations with city officials, the Santa Cruz City Police Department, neighbors, and park visitors will ensure that the farm continues to support overall safety in Pogonip.
Will HGP trainees be housed at Pogonip Farm?
The Pogonip Farm is not designed as a residential facility. HGP social workers support trainees to set and reach housing goals in their path out of homelessness. Among other housing strategies, HGP is participating with local service providers in the coordinated entry planning process and refer trainees to this process.
Since the site is also close to the Homeless Services Center and Rebele Family Shelter, a number of our trainees will be housed there.
Economic sustainability of Pogonip Farm?
The board of HGP has recently approved an updated five-year strategic plan for HGP, including Pogonip Farm. HGP leadership is currently refining the long-term business plan for Pogonip Farm to ensure its economic stability for many years to come.
Where can I learn more about homelessness in our county?
Mobilizing the community to action is a key strategy in our county’s All In: Toward A Home for Every County Resident plan. You can read more about it here.