Omar Gallardo grew up among the mango orchards of Michoacán, Mexico, and the Geyserville vineyards in Sonoma County as the child of immigrant farmworkers. He cherished the time he spent outdoors with his family: eating corn fresh off the cob and gathering at the sprawling Howarth Park and Spring Lake near Santa Rosa, known to the local Latinx community as “el parque de los patos,” after the ducks and waterfowl that roam the area.
More than a decade ago, Gallardo joined LandPaths, a conservation and environmental education organization based in Santa Rosa. He became manager of a two-acre community garden called Bayer Farm in Santa Rosa’s Roseland, a neighborhood of primarily Latinx and working-class residents surrounded by freeways. The garden was a vacant lot fenced in by barbed wire before LandPaths stepped in. Under Gallardo’s guidance, the garden has flourished as a bridge between worlds.
“Why is a conservation organization investing into a community garden?” Gallardo asks. “When I came on board, we really started to look at this community garden as this starting point for education and involvement beyond the garden.”
The 2023 Bay Nature Local Hero Awards
Every year, the Bay Nature board chooses four community-nominated leaders who are changing Bay Area nature and communities for the better. “These are folks who speak with their actions and choices over days, years, and decades and motivate us all to do the same,” writes our editor in chief, Victoria Schlesinger. Here are profiles of the 2023 award winners:
Stu Weiss, Conservation Action Award
Blanca Hernández, Environmental Educator Award
Gallardo, LandPaths, and the growing Bayer Farm community have since transformed the garden into a thriving hub for outdoor gatherings. Today, it is home to 80 family garden plots brimming with vegetables and fruits; two playgrounds; and community celebrations year-round.
Gallardo is well aware it is no small request to ask community members who do manual labor five or six days a week to also go on hikes or help out with trails during their time off. He says that to engage with nature, immigrant communities need opportunities to participate and contribute, whether it’s by donating homegrown vegetables to food banks, maintaining trails, or speaking to teens in LandPaths’ Inspired Forward mentorship program. “There’s this dignity of just being included in these opportunities to give back,” says Gallardo.
Taking care of the garden opens the door to other LandPaths offerings, like Vamos Afuera, a Spanish-language outdoor expedition program. Over the past six years, Gallardo has led hundreds of families on trips to Yosemite and other outdoor destinations with Vamos Afuera. Many of these families have gone on to venture into nature on their own. “Offer people that opportunity to explore, and they’ll eventually develop a responsibility to take care of that place,” says Gallardo.
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