A neighborhood nuisance became a community asset Tuesday when local activists and volunteers opened the Seeds of Inspiration garden at 4th and Eye streets by harvesting giant zucchini.
Soon, neighborhood gardeners will be picking their personal crops amid tall corn, where once vendors hawked secondhand goods and empty shopping carts mysteriously multiplied. On Tuesday, vegetables planted in May already were bearing fruit in the Central Valley sun.
Members of the Keep Bakersfield Beautiful committee (KBB) and The Giving Tree Project Benefit Corp., along with neighbors, volunteers, councilmen and Mayor Harvey Hall marveled at the speed with which this $17,924 institution became reality.
"It used to be an illegal dump site, swap meets that weren't approved, general loitering," said Jessica Felix, a KBB community relations specialist, as the ribbon-cutting began, commemorating a 14-month build. "I am appreciative of all you who have been on this journey to make this possible."
On Tuesday, the children of volunteers played in the largest planter, a partially buried Volkswagen Beetle body donated by German Dreams, that blossomed with flowers growing in the trunk. It joined off-road tires painted bright colors, and the metal hull of a light-up sign, in continuing the art garden theme of whimsical, repurposed planting beds.
"The city was continually having to clean this up," said KBB Chairman Dave Taylor. "They had a lot of teamwork in making this happen. Amber Beeson, she's kind of the spearhead of this garden."
Beeson, who is a KBB advisory committee member and executive director of the Giving Tree, designed the garden and its irrigation and worked with the city to secure sponsorships from area companies.
The Home Depot sent employees from its Ming Avenue store to help build planting beds and the fence, a rustic version of chain-link. Ikea volunteers installed solar-powered drip irrigation, as well as tables, benches, a solar lighting system and decking. The company also donated $5,000 to the garden. White Forest Nursery donated plants. American Fabrication and Hall Ambulance, the mayor's business, built and installed signs.
Other sponsors included Pacific Gas & Electric Company and The Bakersfield Californian Foundation.
"I'm so humbled by the amount of people who came together to create this. I'm sorry -- I'm a big softie," Beeson said, saluting the more than 200 volunteers who worked on the project, in a voice choked with emotion.
"It's really an educational garden. I call it an open-air classroom. A lot of people are very excited to learn gardening, but there aren't very many classes offered," she said as more than 30 spectators arrived, stepping through a park strip studded with rosemary plants, cherry trees and flowers. "Anybody from Kern County can come and take some of the workshops."
Exact details are still being finalized, but the Giving Tree Project, which will run the garden on city-owned land, will offer individual memberships, which include plots of land for cultivation; and family memberships, which also will include free admission to all events -- potentially, everything from yoga workshops to cultivation classes.
As he inspected the garden, which features corn, tomatoes and squash, as well as apple, lime, lemon, orange and pear trees, Mayor Hall noticed the watermelon vines.
"This is community involvement. Being able to have the family participate, neighbors participate," Hall said, quizzing neighbor Mandy Quisenberry on melons.
"Tell me how watermelon develops. When is the best time to pick it?" Hall asked.
"I'm actually just learning," said Quisenberry, who rents a bungalow that overlooks the irregularly shaped lot.
When she and her fiance, Jessi House, found the house, shortly before Seeds of Inspiration broke ground in April 2012, Quisenberry almost had second thoughts.
"When I first moved in, I did Google Earth and looked it up (online) and saw it was a vacant lot, and so I was scared," Quisenberry said.
Today, the only way to see that vacant lot is via Google Maps, which has yet to rephotograph the area.