It’s a startling fact: Pediatricians are now warning that because today’s children live a sedentary lifestyle and are so chronically overfed yet undernourished, they may be the first generation of Americans since World War II to die at an earlier age than their parents.

Grayson and Amy

Petaluma Bounty executive director Grayson James and farm manager Amy Rice-Jones work the farm.

Photo Credit: Annie Spiegelman

Bounty Farm sign

Petaluma Bounty Farm shares its mission with all who enter – and volunteer.

Photo Credit: Annie Spiegelman

Planting fruit trees

Community involvement is what this garden is all about! Plenty of volunteers showed up to plant fruit trees in April 2009.

Photo Credit: Annie Spiegelman

But there are people out there trying to change that – via the old-fashioned, digging-in-the-dirt way. Petaluma Bounty, a nonprofit organization in Petaluma, CA, is aiming to build a sustainable food system on its downtown 2-acre farm that gives access to healthy food for everyone in Petaluma. The organization also redistributes surplus food and provides affordable fresh, organic produce to low-income families, schools and seniors.

“Our mission is to provide a healthier food system in Petaluma, CA,” says Grayson James, executive director of the organization. He explains that a growing number of seniors in Petaluma live on fixed incomes and are unable to afford healthy, fresh food, while almost 1 in 3 children in Petaluma City Schools live in families that can’t afford to put healthy food on the table on a daily basis.

The farm received the initial seed funding from the Hub of Petaluma Foundation. “I gave a presentation at Elim Lutheran Church a few years ago. It’s now our fiscal sponsor,” Grayson says. “After the meeting, the daughter of Mr. Stonitsch, a longtime Petaluma resident, graciously convinced her dad to let us use his property on Shasta Road to grow this community farm.”

Gottfried Stonitsch is generously leasing the land where he raised his family to Bounty Farm for five years. Along with support from Clover Stornetta Farms, North Bay Construction Inc., Whole Foods Market, Green Waster Recovery, Exchange Bank and Kaiser Permanente, the vision soon became a reality. “We envisioned this as the visual focal point for a healthy Petaluma food system. People can come here and experience food growing in the ground, look at it, taste it, get their hands dirty and learn. This is an educational forum,” says Grayson.

“The property was once a thriving lumberyard. I can’t thank the volunteers enough,” says farm manager Amy Rice-Jones. “They’ve done the cleaning and preparing of the land, and recently 25 brave, strong volunteers built a large greenhouse on the property in practically one day. The community support has just been incredible.”

The farm is growing something all the time, including springtime cover crops of vetch, fava beans, peas and oats. They’re soon chopped down and worked into the soil as a nutritious natural fertilizer and amendment before the flower and vegetable seedlings growing in the new greenhouse are planted.

It seems the entire community has embraced the small farm and its produce. “Numerous local restaurants cook with our crops: Café Zazzle, Dempsey’s, The Tea Room Café and Central Market are a few. Our produce and flowers are also available at the local farmer’s market,” says Amy. “In the growing season, we have a flower subscription business where local businesses can sign up to purchase a fresh weekly bouquet of locally grown, organic flowers.”

Besides the 2-acre community farm, Petaluma Bounty has three other remarkable programs:

  • Bounty Hunters collects surplus fruits and vegetables from the local community. All those peaches left sitting on the ground under the tree inviting pests and fungus because gardeners are too busy can actually go toward feeding people. There’s even a “food posse” that gardeners can call to come over and pick up extra food if they’re too busy to drop it off at one of the Bounty Hunters’ collection sites. These brave bounty hunters have collected 90,000 pounds of surplus food since August 2006!
  • The Bounty Box Food Club delivers a weekly box of healthy, fresh produce to low-income households at wholesale prices (subsidized by retail Bounty Box sales and corporate sponsorships).
  • Petaluma Bounty has also created additional community gardens at McDowell and McKinley elementary schools, and a third garden is located at La Tercera Park. So many families who live in apartments now have a place to grow their own food.

“Our mission is to make healthy food available to everyone in Petaluma. To change a food system, it can’t be done with just one program. You have to take a broader view. We’re connecting with others locally to see how we can all team together so we can really start to shift an entire system,” adds Grayson.

Petaluma Bounty is the type of program anyone can start with the right motivation. And it’s something more and more communities are turning to, says Bill Maynard, vice president of the American Community Gardening Association. “In fact, the last few years the interest in community gardens has risen,” Bill adds. “This year we have seen a large number of churches wanting to start community gardens on their property and more interest from the public on how to start a community garden.”

So don’t be shy – grow and spread the bounty! Growing fruits and veggies isn’t just good for you – it’s good for the environment and your entire community!