Sara McCamant and Deborah Ramelli

IN THE GARDEN — Sara McCamant (left), Ceres’ garden and youth program manager for Sebastopol, and Ceres Communications Director Deborah Ramelli in the center of the Ceres Community Garden.

Ceres hopes to keep its community garden despite new housing development

The Ceres Community Garden isn’t as well known as its mothership The Ceres Community Project, the Sebastopol-born nonprofit that teaches teens to cook healthy meals and then delivers those meals to seriously ill clients throughout the north bay.

Founded in 2012 and developed by local gardener Sara McCamant, the Ceres garden is located behind O’Reilly Media, which has hosted the garden rent free for seven years, in what Ceres Communications Director Deborah Ramelli calls “an extremely generous agreement.”

Laid out in four quadrants around a central circle, the one-acre garden produces a wide variety of vegetables for Ceres’ Sebastopol kitchen. It is tended by teen volunteers, under McCamant’s watchful eye, and is an integral part of the Ceres farm-to-table curriculum, in which teens learn to grow, harvest and prepare food for Ceres’ clients.

Now the future of the garden is up in the air, due the pending sale of the land to City Ventures, a developer of median-priced housing that is looking to build the largest housing development that Sebastopol has seen in many years.

The three parcels that make up the O’Reilly Media property — including the main building complex and two parcels behind it — have been up for sale for several years now. City Ventures is in contract to purchase the two undeveloped parcels between the building and the West County Trail. The Ceres garden sits on the western edge of the southernmost parcel.

According to Ramelli, Ceres has yet to be told what will become of the garden. 

“At this point, we’re trying to gather as much information as we can about everyone’s plans and intentions,” she said.

“Of course, our hope would be that we could keep the garden intact as it is because we feel like it’s a jewel of Sebastopol,” she said.

Ceres’ CEO Cathryn Couch said that, at first, neither the seller or the buyer of the property reached out to Ceres to let them know that the property was in contract to be developed.

“We learned of this when everyone else did — when we saw the postcards for the community meeting that happened at O’Reilly about two or three weeks ago. Deborah and Sara McCamant went to that meeting. Since then, a staff member from City Ventures came and met with us to learn more about Ceres and the garden.”

McCamant, who is the garden and youth program manager for Ceres in Sebastopol, said she understands the desperate need for housing, but hopes there can be some kind of compromise.

“The hope is that we could figure out a way to do both housing and the garden, because we know there’s a housing crisis; we know how important housing is,” McCamant said. “We don’t want this to be housing versus gardens, but we also know that there needs to be spaces for youth and there needs to be spaces for gardens. We hope that there’s some way that the two can exist side by side.

“Our dream would be that they build around the garden, and the garden is able to stay as is. We hope that we can be given a long-term lease so we can continue to do the amazing work that we’ve been doing here. We have hundreds of youth here every year working in connection to the Earth and learning about food all the way from the soil to the kitchen to the community.”

City Ventures CEO Phil Kerr said the company hasn’t yet committed to purchasing property and thus has no plans yet for what to do about the garden.

“The way we work is that before we purchase a property we spend time getting to know the community and gathering as much information as possible. It’s a due diligence type period, and that’s what we’re doing now,” he said.

“We’re in conversation with Ceres, and we’re trying to understand what their goals are, how the land is being used. It’s all a part of information gathering. We’re still very early in the process.”

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