A handful of young adults are dancing, some even moshing, to rap music and classic sing-along songs. There’s nothing unusual about this scene except there is no vinyl dance floor under their feet, just paths of dirt winding between garden beds. People are thrown off by this image as they pass by the community gardens, but this is what People’s Revolutionary Gardens Network is meant to be.
“We like chaos,” co-founder of People’s Revolutionary Gardens Network Carmen Bouquin said. “We try to make it different than usual.”
Bouquin is a local community organizer and Cuesta College student from Paso Robles who advocates for climate justice and abolitionism. They co-founded the organization in September, which is a project born from Abolitionist Action Central Coast/SLO (A.A.C.C.S), a local abolitionist group which advocates for social justice, specifically divesting from the police and investing in the community.
The organization maintains four communal gardens scattered throughout the city. The gardens are located at Growing Grounds, City Farm SLO, Emerson Park and one at Cal Poly through the Garden Club.
All the land that the organization uses to garden, as well as the supplies they use, are donated to them by community members.
Beyond the communal gardens that are maintained by organization members, the group has helped establish personal gardens at people’s homes, including one planted about a month ago at People’s Self Help Housing apartment complex in Templeton.
Sundays are their harvest days, which is when about five volunteers gather the food that is ready to distribute and maintain the garden. This is when they’ll blast music and have impromptu dance sessions in order to maintain a fun environment while they tend to the gardens.
“We’re trying to make it like a community that makes gardening and growing food actually kind of fun and cool and not like some business, like turning out the land or some hippie thing,” Bouquin said. “We want it to be accessible to folks.”
Most of the food they harvest on Sundays is donated to a distribution center in Santa Maria, which caters to Indigenous farmworkers in the area. Sometimes they’ll also donate their food to local organizations like Food Not Bombs or SLO Street Medics.
Through the winter, their gardens were seen producing an abundance of brassica, or leafy greens like cabbage and kale.
But kale isn’t a “fun” food for everyone, Bouquin said.
With the ushering in of spring, their crops are starting to look a lot different, including a “salsa garden” that Bouquin said has all the ingredients to make a delicious salsa.
“This is the fun part,” Bouquin said.
In addition to the handful of people who help with harvesting, about 70 people are involved in People’s Revolutionary Gardens Network.
“It’s still a baby, it’s still growing,” Bouquin said. “We have so many people to outreach to.”
The organization is mostly young community members with little to no experience about growing their own food.
Environmental management and protection junior Maya Avendano, who has always loved gardening and works at a nursery, said she found out about the organization through a friend. She said she has always had an interest in mutual aid and political action, especially at the local level, so she was “really excited” to join.
“I love the idea of [gardening] being accessible to everyone because that’s a lot of what People’s Revolutionary Gardens does,” Avendano said. “And also if you don’t have the means to have your own garden, the harvesting days are such a nice way to just kind of heal and experience what it’s like to have a garden.”
People’s Revolutionary Gardens Network also educates the community on issues ingrained in food systems, like food sovereignty and food justice.
Avendano has aided in conducting seminars and composing education resources whilst also working to produce a zine about food sovereignty that the organization plans to distribute this summer.
Through their garden network, the organization is pushing for social change within the Central Coast’s food system, advocating for having local, organic food in accessible grocery stores like Walmart.
They are also pushing for local policies that help small farmers, especially Black farmers, Indigenous farmers, farmers of color and those using regenerative practices.
“No one’s advocating for the small farmer, no one’s advocating for the consumer,” Bouquin said.
The purpose of People’s Revolutionary Gardens Network is to fight oppressive systems that plague local food systems.
“How can we address the oppressive systems that we’re fighting at the same time as [we] work to build new ones by getting hands in the ground and gardening?” Bouquin asked.
The network’s purpose is to answer this very question, which can be addressed through the organization’s long term and short term goals.
For the short term, the organization is aiming to establish a network of gardens to provide healthy and accessible food to people impacted by food injustice, as well as educate the community on what food sovereignty and food justice is. This is what they’ve already established and continue to work on.
Environment management and protection professor Nick Williams said that food sovereignty is an idea that focuses on autonomy and production of food. On the other hand, food justice is a response to food sovereignty in the United States and the inequality that persists in its food systems.
Williams said that there are ways of eating and engaging with the landscape that are culturally historic, specifically to Indigenous Americans, yet much of these were disrupted by colonization.
Hundreds of years after the colonization of America, these issues persist in marginalized communities which are forced to assimilate and continue to assimilate to what the majority decides what food systems should look like, according to Williams.
“The ways in which you combat all of these sort of oppressive political and economic systems is through changing the way you eat, and changing the way that you relate to your food and maybe changing … the places that you get [your] food,” Williams said.
People’s Revolutionary Gardens Network’s long term goal is to get land back into the hands of Indigenous people and to broaden their network of gardens to feed thousands of people on the Central Coast who don’t have access to food.
Although their long term goal hasn’t been achieved yet, it’s something the group continuously considers and works towards.
Avendano said that having an organization doing what People’s Revolution Gardens Network is doing is important to the community to provide for people oppressed by local food systems.
“I think everyone has the right to accessible, fresh produce and fresh fruits and something like a garden that’s so therapeutic – and generally it can be a pretty inaccessible thing,” Avendano said. “Having something like the People’s Revolutionary Gardens Network kind of helps bring that down.”