A local nonprofit is ringing in the new year—and the following two years—with some new funds to support its unique gardening program.
Near the end of 2023, Blue Sky Center in New Cuyama was awarded a three-year $30,000 grant from the Fund for Santa Barbara, specifically to support the organization’s Cuyama Valley Victory Gardens Project. Additional funding from the Strategic Growth Council allowed the Blue Sky Center to recently allocate $20,000 toward the project’s growth as well.
Since its inception in 2020, the project has installed backyard gardens for 45 households in the Cuyama Valley and hosts bilingual workshops on grape grafting, garlic cultivation, and other gardening topics for community members on a regular basis with an aim to strengthen the region’s food system and promote food sovereignty.
Program leader Sandra Uribe said that the new grant will help Blue Sky Center expand the project and provide gardens for more families than previous budgets have allowed.
“The success of the program has come as a small surprise, as its growth has been driven by word of mouth between families,” Uribe told the Sun over email.
Uribe described the Cuyama Valley Victory Gardens Project as an initiative to bolster food accessibility the area by not only supplying home garden resources to residents, but also offering collaborative peer-to-peer classes on how to garden, with community members taking turns teaching one another and “learning from each other, like a big family.”
“There is a lot of talent within the group of participating families, which is why we identify and source educational opportunities from the skills that members have,” Uribe explained.
Participants of the peer-to-peer workshops can also learn how to become garden coordinators themselves at Blue Sky Center if interested.
“Training is conducted through educational workshops held at the Blue Sky Center facilities,” Uribe said. “These meetings occur once a month with flexible morning and afternoon schedules.”
While the garden coordinator training sessions happen monthly, Blue Sky Center’s regular gardening workshops “take place every four to six weeks, more often in the planting seasons,” Uribe said.
“We also have an interpreter if necessary,” Uribe added, noting that funds used to support the Cuyama Valley Victory Gardens Project in turn help the Blue Sky Center “implement bilingual curricula.”
As for future implementation of residential backyard gardens, Uribe said the first step for any family interested in signing up is to simply call the Blue Sky Center or visit the venue in person. Registration includes supplying routine details such as contact info, an address, and the number of household members at the applicant’s residence.
“We then add them to a waiting list because the delivery and installation of the planters take place during the spring,” Uribe said.
Reflecting on the program’s growth since 2020, Uribe described the Cuyama Valley Victory Gardens Project as “a resounding success,” and one that continues to grow.
The project was implemented by the Blue Sky Center in the spring of 2020, Uribe explained, as a community resource “to confront immediate issues of food access in the Cuyama Valley” at the start of the COVID-19 crisis.
Early support from various organizations—including the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians Foundation, the Fund for Santa Barbara, the Santa Barbara County Food Action Network, and the Santa Barbara Foundation—allowed Blue Sky Center to install raised bed gardens and supply seeds, starter plants, and other gardening materials to community members during the pandemic.
Uribe credited the project’s steady growth over the years as “thanks to all the individuals and organizations that make it possible,” and she said she is excited for Blue Sky Center to use its recent grant funds to help “build gardens with even more families” and “further deepen the program’s impact in 2024.”
Arts Editor Caleb Wiseblood still can’t fathom how four years have gone by since 2020. Send comments to [email protected].