Gardening's Ripple Effect: Water Conservation in Lucerne

Today brings a new gardener spotlight in our “pollinator effect” series.

Last week, we introduced you to Susana, a community gardener utilizing her garden plot not only to feed herself and her family, but dozens of people facing cancer. This week, meet Robert Patton, manager of the FLOW community garden in Lucerne.

Rob became involved with the FLOW (Friends of Locally Owned Water) garden seven years ago. Rising water prices implemented by Cal Water spurred on community organizers to take control of their resources. The FLOW community garden was born out of their organizing efforts and remains part of their legacy.

Just how does the garden contribute to water conservation? Rob explains, “Well, I pump the water out of the lake here. We have a 2,500 gallon tank but we can only use about 1,200 gallons of it before we don’t have enough water pressure to get it through the lines anymore. Thus we’re going to try to raise it up a little bit with these railroad ties," Robert gestures at a stack of railroad ties generously donated by the Skunk Train. "That should help us get somewhere around 2,000 gallons out of it before we have to refill it.” By using railroad ties to lift the tank, the FLOW community gardeners can almost eliminate both their water costs and their dependence on local water companies. “To fill the tank costs us about a pint of gas maybe, so it’s about a dollar and a half to fill the tank up,” Robert remarks.

Community action is not without its challenges. Before NCO Gardens Project adopted the FLOW garden into the community garden network, the garden was without a fence and vulnerable to theft. The first solar pump the garden purchased was stolen out of their locked tool shed. Robert reflected on the impact Gardens Project has had on the garden, “NCO has just been a tremendous help. All these boxes and building the fence around it. Before we had the fence you literally could not leave anything here. Anything that you left- you leave a pair of fingernail clippers out on the ground over here and the next day they’d be gone. So anyway, the fence has been a very big help.”

Despite the challenges, Robert manages to donate hundreds of pounds of organic, GMO-free produce from the community garden to anyone who needs it. Robert says he takes the produce to any place where people gather, even the local bar where some of his friends like to hang out. “We take all our excess and divide it up amongst our friends or take it over to the senior center.” Connections made through giving and gardening strengthen social ties in Lucerne, “I’ve gotten friendly with a lot of the people at the community center from what we do here,” explains Robert, “A lot of people that I don’t even know stop and say ‘oh we love the garden, it’s so wonderful,' so it’s a very good social connection as well as a place to get food and exercise, cause I get plenty of exercise here."

After retiring, Robert began to dedicate his time to preserving the environment, and the garden is just one of his many efforts. He is also a member of the Audubon Society, and has been working on a program to recycle fishing line around Clear Lake so that birds don't get caught in it. “That’s another thing that’s close to my heart," he says, "I believe we need to preserve more for the wildlife." In the lake behind the garden, the breeze blows through a patch of tule grass that Robert planted to improve the water quality and serve as a wildlife habitat. "I’m trying to do what little I can. Growing organically in the garden, and cleaning up the fishing line, those are ways that I figured out I can help that nobody else was doing in this area," Robert explains. "That makes me feel like... I’m a cog in the wheel somewhere along the line."

Robert's dedication to conservation has a much greater impact than he thinks-- it ripples across the entire community, creating a more beautifully preserved environment and resilient food system for generations to come. That’s what we like to call the 'Pollinator Effect'!

You can support community gardens and community change- makers like Robert this Giving Tuesday with a donation matched by Facebook, Sparetime Supply Distribution, and FoxFarm Soil & Fertilizer Company! Thanks to our local businesses, your gift will have triple the impact this year. In addition to being matched, your gift will keep on growing by supporting gardeners that go on to impact so many others in our communities.

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