Occidental Arts & Ecology Center

03/13/2019 | News release | Distributed by Public on 03/13/2019 15:05

Congratulations Doug for 30 years at the Food Bank Garden!

For over 2 decades, OAEC has had a deep collaboration with Food For Thought (FFT), a food bank in Forestville that serves over 700 clients living with HIV/AIDS and other critical illnesses. Doug Gosling, OAEC's Mother Garden Biodiversity Program Director, helped to establish the garden at FFT in 1999 and has steadfastly managed and maintained this robust one-acre plot with the help of a dedicated team of FFT volunteers. This season, Dougo is stepping down as the Food for Thought Garden Manager and we are celebrating his 30+ years of vision and dedicated service.

The OAEC Mother Garden Biodiversity Program considers the Food for Thought garden to be its most important 'daughter garden.' With Doug's transition, it is a bit like having the eldest daughter leave the nest!

Partnership History

In the early 1990's, the 80-acre piece of land and gardens now known as OAEC was being stewarded by the Center for Seven Generations (under Doug's direction) and all of the Mother Garden produce at that time was being donated to Food for Thought. When OAEC came into being in 1994, a horticultural therapy program was established by Doug Gosling and Rachel Gardner (who eventually became FFT's Deputy Executive Director and Client Services Manager.) They worked together to create a garden in the backyard of Henry House, then the Sonoma County AIDS hospice. The partnership continued to evolve when OAEC worked with FFT to create a garden around the new Food for Thought Building in 1999. Modeled after early the success of OAEC's Harmony School Garden partnership, half of the staff time was provided by OAEC & the other half by Food for Thought. Eventually, the program grew into what is now one of the core programs of the food bank.

Throughout the history of the project, the OAEC Nursery has provided all the seeds and plant starts. In turn, the Food for Thought garden has offered OAEC's Mother Garden Biodiversity Program a valuable seed saving plot in which to grow out seed crops for several of our favorite varieties, including a 15 foot amaranth from Namibia, shown here.

A significant overlap of volunteers has developed and there is a cohort of dedicated gardeners that show up to tend both the OAEC Mother Garden the FFT garden on a regular basis. It is also worth mentioning that OAEC was a key sponsor of FFT's wildly successful fundraising event which ran for over 10 years called Calabash, a whimsical celebration of gourds, including gourd-related art and music from around the world.

Garden volunteer Jacob Kowalick-Allen with gourds (including a gourd hat) being grown for Calabash.

The Garden

The Food for Thought Garden turns the typical stereotype of a food bank on its head: instead of dolling out bottom-of-the-barrel, 'dented can' food in a callous, institutional setting, Food for Thought provides the healthiest produce grown in rich soil by happy, welcoming volunteers. The experience of arriving at the food bank and being greeted by an exuberant display of flowers, hummingbirds, and natural beauty to rival the even the most chic Sonoma County eateries is just the first step in helping clients feel a sense of dignity, support and inspiration for healing. Doug recalls a memorable moment with a client sitting in front of row of sweet pea flowers - as she inhaled their fragrance, she said 'This beauty gives me a reason to live today.'

Long time garden volunteer Rebecca Guarda arranging sweet peas.

Doug and Rachel's vision for the FFT garden was that it would be a place where clients feel nurtured on every level, a place that physically and metaphorically encourages care for the land as a way to care for one's own body. In addition to producing fresh, high value crops like strawberries, herbs, salad mix and cut flowers from the garden, the food bank also holds cooking classes and nutritional counseling, empowering clients to take wellness into their own hands.

Clients and volunteers come to the FFT garden for many reasons, often as a means of working through their own grief for the loss of a loved one. Doug helped to design and install the AIDS Memorial Garden, a pagoda draped with wisteria and surrounded by perennial plants used throughout history to support the spiritual and physical processes of both the dying and those left behind. Plant allies like white sage, angelica, bergamot, tobacco and rosemary have been used for remembrance, emotional healing, and for safe travel to the spirit realm. Visitors can inscribe the name of a loved one onto copper leaves that hang and flutter to make a gentle sound in the wind.

Related Projects

OAEC and Food for Thought also sponsored Doug Gosling to travel to a sister project in Namibia, called Hope Initiatives, a home and food bank for children who have been orphaned by the AIDS epidemic in Africa. His initial visit helped them to establish what is now a thriving garden that supplies their soup kitchen with important staple vegetables and herbs. Since then, Hope Initiatives staff have visited OAEC and Food for Thought several times.

Hilje, from Hope Initiatives with armfuls of bokchoi in the FFT garden.

Now and Into the Future

OAEC is incredibly proud of Doug and Food for Thought's accomplishment in starting and sustaining one of the most impactful and enduring community garden projects in the region. As Doug pulls back to be closer to home in the spring of 2019, Food for Thought welcomes a new Garden Manager, Sorrel Allen. With deep roots and networks in the community, Sorrel is thrilled to continue to steward Doug's loving legacy in the Food for Thought garden and is honored to share the magic, beauty, and nutritional goodness cultivated therein. The OAEC Nursery will continue to grow seedlings and seeds for FFT and there may be some interesting programmatic developments and potential for additional collaboration on the horizon.

Congratulations Doug and Welcome Sorrell! We look forward to many more years of gardening together.