Elena Bilheimer, EcoNews Journalist
The Daluviwi’ Community Garden first began as a way to provide food for the Blue Lake Rancheria Elder’s Nutrition Program. Started around 2017, this project supplies pre-prepared frozen meals to roughly 85 households made up of tribal elders in the community. Up until 2020, the garden was managed seasonally by different tribal staff members until Daniel Holsapple was hired as the full time Community Garden Manager. With an education in horticulture and Native American studies, Holsapple has applied for various grants in order to expand the garden’s offerings to include a farmstand, agricultural workshops, native plant propagation, a composting program, and community garden plots.
Taking up only about a quarter of an acre with active crop production, the farm is bustling with various projects and plants. Holsapple and his coworker Frederique Guezille, who is in charge of creating agriculture-focused educational programs, manage the general garden tasks with help from college and high school interns as well as local volunteers. The garden is comprised of two high tunnels full of seasonal vegetables, a small fruit tree orchard, a native plant propagation area, a small flock of egg-laying coturnix quail, and a composting program that utilizes food scraps from the Tribe’s Powers Creek Brewery commercial kitchens and Honeycomb Coffee in Blue Lake.
This native plant propagation has extended beyond the garden, as last year Holsapple and his coworkers worked to restore a section of Powers Creek, a waterway which runs along the south side of the Rancheria and through the town of Blue Lake before entering the Mad River. In addition to replanting many native trees, they incorporated native purple needlegrass that was started from seed in the garden. This plant helps stabilize the creek’s banks due to its vast and deep root networks, as well as providing food for native wildlife.
“One of the things that really inspired me to want to get into this work was seeing what many tribes have been doing in terms of protecting cultural resources, removing invasive plant species, and creating educational opportunities for the public to learn about traditional plant uses,” said Holsapple. “I really saw this community garden as an opportunity to further that work. Growing food, growing native plants, and educating the public about tribal food sovereignty and the importance of encouraging native plant species. It just seemed like the perfect way to promote these efforts and so far it has been amazing.”
Some of Holsapple’s favorite native plants to grow include coyote brush (Baccharis pilularis), because it flowers at a time when a lot of other flowering plants aren’t and provides a year round source of food for beneficial insects, and California buckeye (Aesculus californica) because of its beautifully scented flowers. Holsapple and the garden team recently planted a fall crop consisting of different types of cabbages, beets, radishes, kales, and carrots. This summer, they grew lots of lemon cucumbers, zucchini, tomatoes, artichokes, beets, eggplant, peppers, onions, cut flowers, cantaloupe, watermelon, shiso, basil, garlic, and other crops. “I’m a particular sucker for eggplants. I’ve always enjoyed eggplant and just recently we had one of our first harvests off our plants in the high tunnel,” said Holsapple. “I wound up buying a lot of them myself and made a huge batch of baba ghanoush at home and it was just delicious.”
In order to grow such a diverse array of crops, Holsapple utilizes various agricultural techniques that he enjoys teaching to anyone interested. This season, he tried the lower and lean technique for his cucumbers and tomatoes, which allows for the vines to grow continuously rather than being limited by the height of their trellising structure. They also employ a technique that includes laying down cardboard under beds of compost in order to create a biodegradable weed barrier.
“One of the major goals I have for the garden is to maintain it as an educational space,” said Holsapple. “Obviously that’s been happening with the interns and volunteers, as they get a lot of benefit out of spending time in the garden and just learning the process of crop production. But we’ve also had some youth groups come into the garden to learn about gardening and we’ve had community members who are participating in community garden plots come in.” Later on in the interview he said, “We’re always open to the public coming in to learn about the garden.”
Currently, Holsapple is in the midst of creating a project through a grant from the USDA that will deliver food boxes consisting of five pounds of fresh produce and two pounds of meat once a month to households in need. The goal is to incorporate as much of the community garden’s produce as possible, while sourcing any additional foods such as meat from other local farmers.
In order to continue with these important projects, the garden will need to rely on more volunteer help over the winter. If community members are interested in becoming involved or gaining additional information, they are encouraged to reach out to Daniel at email@example.com. The farmstand will be open on Fridays all through October from 2 PM to 6 PM, located at 504 Chartin Avenue right before the Blue Lake Rancheria gas station. Additionally, the Environment and Culture Office that the garden is part of recently started an instagram account (@blr_environmental_office) where, among other things, it plans to share regular updates about the garden’s various projects and species in addition to spotlight posts about different native plants.