One of the many tragedies of the Camp Fire was the destruction of the Norton Buffalo Hall, which not only provided a meeting place and concert venue for the community and beyond, but was also the location of very popular community gardens. Jennifer Peterson, the Norton Buffalo Hall gardens coordinator, is spearheading the effort to rebuild this important local resource. Peterson recently spoke with the Real Dirt about the history of the gardens and the on-going work to recreate them on their original site.
In 2008, due in part to the efforts and energy of Michael Waldon, the grange property became home to a thriving community garden project. Many local residents volunteered in the gardens, working under the oaks that provided filtered sunlight to raised beds, garden paths, and a variety of seasonal vegetables. One focus of the philosophy guiding the garden project was experimentation with new and sustainable gardening approaches and techniques.
A few years ago, in order to retain local ownership and control, a number of Community Granges across the nation became Community Guilds, and the Paradise Grange was re-christened the Norton Buffalo Hall, an outreach arm of the Paradise Community Guilds. The Hall property supported two garden options: The Paradise Neighborhood Garden and the Organic Plot Garden. The Neighborhood Garden offered community members a chance to work together to grow fresh, organic food to share with family, neighbors, and local organizations. In exchange for hours worked in the garden, members received produce to take home. A percentage of the harvest was distributed to local Food Banks and Community Lunch Programs. The Organic Plot Garden consisted of 15 individual garden plots offered on a first-come first-served basis. Independent gardeners could rent a plot for $10 a month. Both community garden options flourished. Then late in 2018 came the Camp Fire. The site, including the building and the garden infrastructure, was destroyed.
Real Dirt: How did you become involved with the Paradise Community Gardens?
Jennifer Petersen: In early 2014 I stumbled upon the Grange Garden at a charity event that was being held at the Hall. The zinnias and morning glories caught my attention right away, overflowing the 4- by 10-foot raised beds housed inside the cute little garden with the homemade gate. I was born and raised in Paradise and never knew this was here?! My yard in Paradise was a gardener's nightmare as far as sunlight goes, so this was a real find.
RD: Who else in the community partnered with the (then) Grange to provide equipment, seeds, and plants to the gardens? Who is partnering with you now?
RD: Was everything lost in the Camp Fire?
JP: For myself and many others I believe gardening is great therapy and so rewarding to watch the growth of life from seed to fruition. After so much loss, our community can benefit from that. Food security is an issue now more than ever and it is a goal to educate and assist in that process as much as possible. We try to provide free seeds through the Paradise Seed Lending Library which is now mobile, but we have committed to building a Tiny Seed Library to give better access. We also have plant sales and hold education workshops on a seasonal basis.
RD: What is your vision for the future of the gardens?
JP: In the future I would love to see even more gardens, edible food forests, composting centers, and outdoor education areas. Lots and lots of space for recreation, art, music, and relaxation. We are faithful stewards of the land and all the life that thrives here on Chapel Drive.
RD: What are future goals for Paradise Community Gardens and the wider organization, the Paradise Community Guilds?
JP: There are plans to rebuild the Norton Buffalo Hall in partnership with other local nonprofits in town to continue providing an excellent music venue for local and visiting musicians. Paradise Community Guilds has always been committed to the “wondrous power of growing things” and that includes our community.
RD: How can people become involved with the gardens? What do you need to help you rebuild and recover?
JP: Paradise Community Guilds has always been committed to the “wondrous power of growing things” and that includes our community. Anyone interested can connect with us through our Website or Facebook page. We have open arms for anyone who wants to join us and help make a true Paradise here on the ridge. Resources and helping hands always make for lighter work, and we can always use more of those!
RD: Thank you Jennifer Petersen, and all the dedicated visionaries working to rebuild Paradise.
UC Master Gardeners of Butte County are part of the University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE) system. To learn more about us and our upcoming events, and for help with gardening in our area, visit our website. If you have a gardening question or problem, email the Hotline at firstname.lastname@example.org (preferred) or call (530) 538-7201.
Photo credits: Jennifer Petersen