Garden 1

Posing with scarecrows at the Barbara Payne Community Garden are (from left)Pam Carmichael, Bronson Simunek, Sue Roberts and Rodney Simunek.

After going dormant for a time during the pandemic, the Barbara Payne Community Garden is ready to grow back into Galt.

Since its creation in 2014, the garden has developed a variety of projects, besides its plots for individual gardeners.

It invites children from a local daycare to visit and has a shelf where community members can pick up excess produce for free. It has also set aside a couple of plots for people with developmental disabilities in a program run by Raley’s.

And, on a recent tour of the garden, board member Bronson Simunek said she had restarted growing tomatoes that will find their way onto the plates of diners at Velvet Grill & Creamery.

“I grew them by seed, all of them,” Simunek said, listing the tomato varieties. “And we have beefsteak (tomatoes). We have Ace. … There’s the black cherry, Sweet 100s and sunburst.”

The garden began selling produce to Velvet Grill a few years ago to raise money. Simunek was looking for ways to distribute excess produce when she thought of the restaurant, right across the train tracks from the garden’s location south of Harvey Park. She reached out to owner Kirk Smith.

“I said, ‘Come on over and see what I’ve got,’” Simunek recalled. “He came over and goes, ‘I’ll take it twice a week.’”

Two years ago, they paused the tomato program, planting grasses to replenish the soil’s nutrients. Finally, this year, it’s time to get started again.

“It’s nice to see that local businesses here support a nonprofit,” said Simunek’s husband, Rodney Simunek, who maintains the garden’s facilities and landscaping. The garden operates under the auspices of the city of Galt, and Simunek commended the support of Parks and Recreation Director Armando Solis.

The coronavirus pandemic put most of the garden’s projects on hold. While the individual gardeners could still come in, improvements like installing a drip irrigation system had to wait.

Laying the tubing is “a lot of work,” Rodney Simunek said, because of the need to dig trenches, but the drip system has had a noticeable effect on the areas where it’s gone in, like the garden’s small stand of fruit trees.

“This place seems to be happy. You’ve got fruit growing everywhere,” he said.

The garden leadership was looking forward to restarting that initiative, getting irrigation to the roughly nine beds that don’t have it yet.

Gardeners have a wide range of experience levels. Bronson Simunek has been gardening since she was a teenager.

“I had a 2-acre garden when I was 15, with a tractor. And my mom canned, and I’ve been doing it all my life. I just love it,” she explained.

Meanwhile, Pam Carmichael, another board member, began gardening only after retirement.

“I have just always wanted to learn how to grow my own food, and when we retired here in Galt and saw that this was available, at the time I didn’t have to wait too long (to get a plot),” Carmichael said. “I just loved learning.”

Beds aren’t currently available for rent; there’s a waitlist. But Bronson Simunek said the garden is interested in hearing from people who want to contribute in other ways.

“If somebody wanted to come in the garden, donate something or maybe they wanted to help build something like that,” she said, the board of directors would consider how to fit the idea into the garden.

The garden is already the site of several Scouting projects, such as an information board, a wheelchair-accessible garden plot and a Little Free Library.

For those looking to partake in the bounty, there is the free-produce shelf, as well as a plot of strawberry plants that anyone can pick from.

“It’s in my blood. I have to garden,” Bronson Simunek said. “I mean it’s just part of me. Without it, it’s like something fell off me or something. I have to be in the dirt.”

The Barbara Payne Community Garden is located at 402 Third Street. To learn more about the garden, email thegaltgarden@gmail.com.