Ploughshares nears a decade at the Point

Ploughshares nears a decade at the Point

Michael Lano

Photos by Michael Lano.

Dating back to the last two centuries, Alameda’s history has included farmers who worked the land. At Ploughshares Nursery, that history has come full circle.

The nursery, a nonprofit social enterprise of the Alameda Point Collaborative that fronts on the Main Street edge of Alameda Point, will celebrate a decade of providing on-the-job training to collaborative residents and plants and gardening advice to Alamedans, in 2015. And it’s halfway to finishing a new, sustainable education and retail center due to open in 2016.

I’d blindly driven past the Main Street nursery several times on the way to take the ferry into San Francisco. But I was curious enough about Ploughshares last week that I finally visited, and I was really impressed with what I saw.

The nursery describes itself as a social enterprise of the collaborative, and all of its sales proceeds support housing for formerly homeless families. It also helps Alameda by selling energy-conscious products that protect and improve our environment, using recycled materials whenever possible and creating job training and employment opportunities and skills for collaborative residents.

Ploughshares is indeed far more than just “a place selling plants.” Its operation includes a large farm that grows all sorts of vegetables, fruit, succulents, plants, shrubs and much more; its managers use sustainable growing methods that include using organic soil and fertilizers like NEEM and hot pepper oils.

The nursery also sells fruit trees and California-native plants. Ploughshares has, in fact, partnered with the City of Alameda to sell trees that meet city planning criteria and that of various homeowners associations for their diversity, aesthetics and success.

Last year Ploughshares manager Jeff Bridge began growing giant pumpkins and said he “spent great time and effort daily babying the one that appeared to be on track to be the largest pumpkin to hopefully enter into historical California pumpkin-growing competitions and bring some publicity for our city and this nursery.”

This year, Bridge said he spread the love, which ended up being a winning tactic.

“Some of them ended up even larger than our biggest one last year!” Bridge said.

Ploughshares also hosts classes and workshops, teaching people how to use natural and safe pesticides. The nursery’s monthly workshops cover topics including water conservation, sustainable gardening and one other topic that caught my eye: How to grow and raise carnivorous, bug-eating plants which help us by munching on mosquitos and disease-bearing flies.

Kids of all ages who visit will not only have fun learning about nutrients while studying and growing flytrap-related species like pitcher plants, Butterworts, Bladderworts and Sundews. They’ll also experience history of a different sort as rudimentary Nepenthes varieties have been present for millions of years in places like Borneo and Australia.

Edible Gardener Jeremy Watts teaches a regular Food Forest class “where you can create a permanent and water-wise food system that becomes increasingly more productive each year with plants and trees lasting a lifetime,” even in Alameda’s notoriously sandy soil.

This coming Saturday, Ploughshares will host a hands-on workshop showing people how to make simple to complex holiday wreaths from garden-variety local backyard plants and another course titled “Yard and Water Conservation: How to Lose Your Lawn” featuring sheet mulching demonstrations and more to get you through the still-lingering drought.

In addition to the farm and classes, Ploughshares boasts a dedicated hydroponic center with two gigantic tanks atop it that are connected to one another. The lower unit has large koi fish that help fertilize the plants growing in the water tank above; the plants, in turn, absorb nitrogen and other substances to purify the water and provide oxygen for the fish.

The nursery also has a beehive mega-area with many friendly bees that produce honey and beeswax. Bridge and his crew have even taken in some of Alameda's endangered feral military base cats and domesticated them.

Early last year, Ploughshares began laying the foundation for a new, 2,500-square-foot education and retail center after the nursery acquired more acreage at the Point. Its new, self-contained building will feature many environmentally-friendly benefits, like solar electricity rain water collection and greywater recycling. Bridge said the building will be constructed with hay bale walls and “as many recycled natural materials for building as we can utilize.”

The new building will also offer more garden-education classroom space indoors as well as room for nursery staff offices and staff meetings. The building will be topped off with a living-garden roof to rival that of the one at California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco.

The new building is being funded by donors and grantors that include the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Yahoo! Employee Foundation, the city and the Bonita Garden Club. Bridge said main construction should begin in 2015, and he’s hopeful it will be open for business in January 2016.

“We will truly have a showcase to show off house plants that we can’t offer for sale right now as we’ve never had a place to protect and sell them before,” Bridge said.

Ploughshares offers many volunteer opportunities for anyone interested in helping out. Ploughshares founder Becky Elliot is still involved with the nursery, and plant and yard expert Iris Watson – who recently retired her beloved Thomsen’s Nursery on Lincoln Avenue – is reportedly going to volunteer.

People interested in helping out can also donate plants, feeders, soil and all yard supplies here. We accept donations of yard waste including used lumber, tools, plants and pots. The nursery also accepts cash contributions through Alameda Point Collaborative, at donatenow.networkforgood.org.

Ploughshares Nursery is located at 2701 Main Street. Hours are from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. 755-1102.

Comments

Submitted by Karen Bey (not verified) on Tue, Dec 9, 2014

I agree -- this is a wonderful asset located within minutes of the Main Street ferry. I buy all my vegetables here and am looking forward to taking some classes. Also, glad to hear that Iris Watson is volunteering some of her time here.

Submitted by Doug Biggs (not verified) on Tue, Dec 9, 2014

Thanks for the great article! Becky, while she is one of our cherished employees was not the founder. Credit for that has to go to a number of folks, including Alamedans Victor Jin and Georgia Madden, Patrick Archie, Entrepreneur Solomon Rosenzweig and hundreds of volunteers who had feet on the ground and hands in the soil bringing Ploughshares to life.

Submitted by jsanders (not verified) on Fri, Dec 12, 2014

Collective farming - socialism at its finest!

Submitted by Jennifer (not verified) on Fri, Dec 12, 2014

Good work Ploughshares! Doing so much good for the community. Truly an inspiration to us all.