Food Anxiety Sparks Renewed Interest in Victory Gardens

By David R. Newman

Planting a vegetable garden is quickly becoming a popular pastime as grocery stores struggle to keep food on the shelves and a Shelter-In-Place order keeps people at home. According to Michael Wirthlin, an avid gardener and sales associate in The Nursery at Dale’s Hardware, “Our numbers show that the vegetable category is up thousands of percent over last year. The only thing limiting our sales is the supply from the growers.”

Indeed, food supply anxiety has swept the nation, and not for the first time. Americans were first introduced to the idea of a “Victory Garden” during World War I, when the government urged citizens to plant in every conceivable plot of land, from empty lots to their own backyards. Propaganda from the National War Garden Commission read, “Prevention of widespread starvation is the peacetime obligation of the United States. … The War Garden of 1918 must become the Victory Garden of 1919.”

The similarities between now and then are striking; the feeling of wartime unity, of rationing, conserving resources, and fighting for the common good, as doctors and nurses do battle on the front lines against an unseen enemy.

Elaine, who manages a community garden and nursery for a Fremont organization known as LEAF, has seen a renewed interest in gardening over the past few years and especially now. At their annual Spring/Summer Plant Sale, which began on April 26, they sold over forty percent of their 3,000 plants in the first week. Says Elaine, “We sold in one week what we normally sell in one month, and I think it has a lot to do with food security. People want to grow everything in their backyards, they want to know where it came from and who touched it.”

An analysis of web search traffic conducted by McConkey, a leading manufacturer and distributor of horticultural goods, shows that the interest in gardening is up fifty percent, especially when it comes to growing vegetables. The report concludes, “people view food as a source of security during a time of uncertainty.” According to Elaine, “The online nursery industry is booming right now.”

During World War II, victory gardens returned in force, producing an estimated forty percent of the country’s vegetables from about 20 million gardens. Says Wirthlin, “In any economic hardship people are food insecure so they turn to growing their own food, from first timers to seasoned farmers.” Wirthlin is in the latter category, having grown crops in his small yard for decades, from tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant, to cucumber, lettuce, kale, bok choy, and green beans. He also likes to grow herbs like cilantro, basil, and parsley.

So what to do if you want in on this current trend? Wirthlin advises, “You can start very simply with just a pot, some fresh potting soil, and a dwarf tomato plant. That’ll give you a lot of bang for your buck. You’ll be picking tomatoes all summer long. Or pick an unused plot in your yard, turn it over, and add some compost and organic fertilizer. In a sunny spot you can grow anything you want really.” Raised planters work best for warding off weeds and pests.

With summer just around the corner, many people think it may be too late to start a garden. But the mild Bay Area climate is perfect for planting a wide variety of fruits and vegetables all the way into June. And once harvested, many keep their gardens going through winter by rotating their crop. Says Wirthlin, “There’s no reason to stop. There are any number of cool weather, hardy vegetables that you can plant – leafy greens like kale, anything in the cabbage family like cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, or brussel sprouts, root crops like lettuce, beets, carrots, or turnips, maybe some snow peas.”

Undeniably planting a garden is hard work. It takes perseverance and patience and lots of trial and error. During World War II, millions of first-time gardeners gave up after the first year, according to the New York Times. But for those brave enough to try it can be a rewarding experience, and now is the perfect time to plant a “Corona Garden”.

There are a great number of resources to help you on this journey, from YouTube videos to places like LEAF, who rent planters, sell seedlings, and provide free online training and education through their website and blog. What planting zone do we live in? What kind of seeds are there? What is the difference between GMO and non-GMO? What is organic fertilizer? Says Elaine, “Our core value here is community. Everyone who volunteers for us believes in helping others, which is why we donate plants and offer free workshops.” 

The COVID-19 pandemic has undeniably changed the way we live, especially here in the busy Bay Area. Life moves a little slower now. We have time to appreciate each other. People are cooking and baking more. When we finally prevail over the virus and victory is at hand, how much of this quarantined lifestyle will remain with us? Having a “Corona Garden” will not only feed our body, but may feed our soul as well, serving as a reminder of a time when the world was just a little bit smaller.

LEAF’s Spring/Summer Plant Sale is happening now

Online Plant Sales Catalog:

(Curbside Pickup at C.R. Stone Garden or Home Delivery)

LEAF C.R. Stone Garden
55 Mowry Ave., Fremont

LEAF rents planters to residents of Fremont, Newark, Sunol, and Union City @

LEAF Center @ California Nursery Historical Park
36501 Niles Blvd., Fremont

More info @

Take A Hike! Oh, and Bring the Family…

by David R. Newman

Now is the perfect time to get out and explore all of the many outdoor gems the East Bay has to offer. Memorial Day weekend has come and gone, and with it, the official start of summer. To celebrate, here’s a list of family friendly hikes to help you fight those quarantine blues…

San Leandro
Heron Bay – This marshy strip of land makes up part of the San Leandro shoreline that touches the bay. It’s open and beautiful, with a nice wide paved trail that leads north all the way to the San Leandro Marina and some southward gravel trails that meander through the marsh and eventually connect with the Hayward Regional Shoreline. Perfect for bikes, joggers, walkers, and dogs. As part of the Bay Trail, the views of the bay are amazing, especially during low tide when birds fan out along the wet sand to feast. This is a nice place to go when it’s hot, as the winds coming in off the bay offer some cool relief.
14010 Neptune Dr, San Leandro (take Lewelling Blvd west to Bayfront Drive)

Castro Valley
Fairmont Ridge – When you mention hiking in Castro Valley, most people think of Lake Chabot, with its many picnic areas and miles of trails that ring the lake. But there is a lesser known area just above the lake to the west called the Fairmont Ridge Staging Area that dog lovers flock to. It’s a simple paved road that follows the ridge for a few miles, ending in a small grove of trees that embrace the Alameda County Children’s Memorial. Views are fantastic, with a sweeping vista of the bay to the west, and a birdseye view of Lake Chabot to the east. If you’re feeling adventurous, try one of the smaller dirt trails that break off from the main road and meander through the rolling terrain. Grazing cattle can often be seen here and sometimes lounge right next to the trail.
2601 Fairmont Dr, San Leandro

Garin Regional Park – A beautiful park in the Hayward Hills with several trails and some
wonderful picnic spots. It’s right next to Dry Creek Pioneer Regional Park, and in fact some of the trails connect but you would never know you’re in a different park. There’s something for everyone here, from ridge trails with jaw-dropping views of the bay, to winding creek trails, to serene flat pathways, to challenging slopes covered with wildflowers.
1320 Garin Ave, Hayward (access also available off of Ziele Creek Drive)

Greenbelt Trails – Another hidden gem managed by the Hayward Area Recreation and Park District (HARD), this 6.3 mile trail links The Plunge/Memorial Park in downtown Hayward with East Avenue Park in the hills behind the Cal State East Bay campus. You would never guess it was there amidst all the urban sprawl, but it’s truly an oasis. Follow Ward Creek on a mostly wide dirt trail. It’s shaded by trees the whole way and a great way to escape the summer heat.
Parking at 24176 Mission Blvd, Hayward, or 3221 East Ave, Hayward

Little Yosemite – The Sunol Regional Wilderness is a vast, well, wilderness, covering acres of land. It’s a little remote compared to the other hikes listed here. The Canyon View Trail leads from the visitor center to Little Yosemite, a scenic canyon with small waterfalls. It’s a nice hike, but a tad grueling. For an easier route, just follow Camp Ohlone Road from the parking lot. The star here is the Alameda Creek, at times wide and shallow, while at other times babbling and gushing.
1895 Geary Rd, Sunol

Union City
Alameda Creek – Yes, it’s the Alameda Creek again, but this time in a more tame environment. Follow the channel behind rows of houses on a flat, paved road that’s perfect for a family escape. Go far enough and you’ll reach Coyote Hills to the west, or Quarry Lakes to the east.
Several access points. Parking available behind library at 34007 Alvarado-Niles Rd, Union City

Central Park/Lake Elizabeth – Located in the heart of Fremont, this is the perfect place to
unwind. Whether you follow one of the paved paths by bike or simply want to stroll the grounds with your dog, now is a great time to enjoy this area when the crowds are away.
40000 Paseo Padre Pkwy, Fremont – parking at Sailway Drive

Coyote Hills Regional Park – A few rolling hills surrounded on all sides by marshland, this is a wonderful place to explore. The trails are easy and most are paved. Interesting rock formations and an Ohlone village site.
8000 Patterson Ranch Road, Fremont


Ed R. Levin County Park – This is a huge family friendly park with many trails, a few ponds, and scenic views throughout. Located in the hills behind Milpitas, many don’t realize it’s there. Hiking one of the shorter trails can be pleasant, or you may want to challenge yourself with a longer trail.
3100 Calaveras Rd, Milpitas

When visiting any of the East Bay Parks, remember these guidelines:
Wear cloth face coverings/masks as recommended by the CDC.
Maintain 6 feet social distance from other park users while walking, biking, and fishing.
NO picnicking, gatherings, or meetup groups (only immediate households).
PACK OUT YOUR TRASH. Do not leave trash in parks and on trails.
Keep dogs ON LEASH at ALL times in ALL parks (where allowed)
Bring water and hand sanitizer. Water fountains in parks are temporarily closed to stem the spread of virus.
Park vehicles properly, safely, and respect park neighbors and park staff. Do not block driveway, roadway, emergency exit, or service access road. Parking restrictions will be enforced.

Also, remember to bring water and wear sunscreen and a hat!

So what are you waiting for? Get out and explore nature. You’ll feel better about yourself and the world. As Yogi Berra once said, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it!”

As of this writing, all restrooms near trail access are open. For more park info and COVID-19 updates, visit

Local Makers Join Forces to Help Fight Coronavirus

By David R. Newman

Medical supplies are in short supply these days, but thanks to some innovative thinking by nonprofits like Maker Nexus, doctors and nurses who are on the front lines fighting Covid-19 are able to operate safely.

Maker Nexus is a maker space in Sunnyvale that provides tools and training for a membership fee. For $150 per month, users have access to 3D printers, laser cutters, a woodshop, metal shop, vinyl cutter, heat press, and more. When word spread that hospitals were running out of personal protective equipment, primarily face masks, face shields, and gloves, the idea to 3D print them was born.

Says Eric Hess, General Manager of Maker Nexus,” It was very clear that there was going to be a shortage based on the experience in Italy and the initial cases that were coming up in the Santa Clara region.” They decided to focus on creating face shields, a product that lends itself well to the 3D printing process.

After researching face shields online, Hess settled on a design created by Prusa, a 3D printing company based in the Czech Republic (Maker Nexus owns five of their printers). Prusa face shields were already being used in hospitals throughout Europe. However, design changes were needed, as doctors and nurses here wanted protection over their heads as well to prevent droplets from falling into their eyes.

After a few design tweaks, Hess ran the first print on March 19. Two days later, the first prototype was in the hands of local medical professionals. Says Hess, “It was a very rapid process. That’s one of the cool things about a maker space. You can iterate very quickly through a design process with a bunch of different people contributing, even though they’re all working remotely.”

In fact, maker spaces across the country have leapt into action in the war against the Coronavirus, filling the gap left by traditional manufacturing methods. Says Hess, “There’s a huge problem with the supply chain right now because factories in China are shut down. This is compounded by the tremendous demand for equipment. This is a way that we can step up to help the community by providing some immediate solutions that traditional manufacturing can’t fulfill.”

It would seem to be the perfect scenario for the maker community. As Shelter-In-Place orders keep everyone at home, those with 3D printers can simply download the plans and start producing parts. Hess estimates that around 400 volunteers have signed up to help, with more being added every day. The main challenge right now is obtaining the material needed to keep production flowing. Says Hess, “We’re trying to reach out directly to the larger suppliers.”

Local students have also risen to the occasion, including Aditya Indla, a sophomore at Bellermine Prep in San Jose. Along with his uncle, a researcher at UC Berkeley, and his school’s maker lab, he has joined the fight not only by making face shields but by raising money to help buy the needed plastic. They estimate that each face shield costs around $5 – $10 to make. Indla has started a GoFundMe page (see link below) with a goal of raising $10,000.

As of this writing, the Maker Nexus community is producing about 300 face shields per day, with a total of over 5,000 face shields having already been delivered to local medical facilities, including the Santa Clara Valley Medical Center Foundation, Kaiser in Oakland, Good Samaritan Hospital, Alta Bates Medical Center, Highland Hospital, Benioff Children’s Hospital, and the Weil Cornell Medical Center in New York. 

Maker Nexus currently has requests for over 20,000 face shields from over 130 different medical facilities. As the number of Coronavirus cases continue to rise and demand for more face shields increases drastically from day to day, Hess admits it’s been a little overwhelming.

“It’s been a challenge. But we’re a community organization – it’s primary component of who we are. And together we can help get this equipment into the hands of the doctors and nurses on the front lines.”

For More Information and Ways to Help: