Two things I enjoy, but don't do enough of – and should: 1) riding my bike downtown and 2) gardening. Actually, to be fair, I spend zero percent of my time gardening. The only plant with the unfortunate luck to be under my care is a fern-like thing that I've been torturing for a year or so in our kitchen.
Tomorrow's community garden bike tour, the first annual SicloVerde, will combine cycling and horticulture from 7 a.m. to noon – that's right, on a Saturday. Me. Awake before 10 a.m. on a Saturday.
But it'll be worth it. Hopefully I can con some friends into joining me for some laid-back cycling – before the summer heat emerges for the day – and to check out some garden-themed activities.
Organizers at the Green Spaces Alliance (GSA) of South Texas anticipate about 50-75 participants who will have an option of a 14- or 8-mile round-trip route. Registration starts at 7 a.m., and the first tour starts at 7:30 a.m. at the River Road Community Garden, 780 E. Huisache Ave. (at Allison Road). Guides will lead small groups in 10-15 minute intervals until 9 a.m.; adult tickets are $25 and kids ages 12-17 are $15. Children riding with parents are free.
The tour is about two-and-a-half hours long and features six downtown community gardens – four if you choose the shorter, 8-mile route. If you're a true community garden rebel, you can purchase a map and go on a self-guided tour.
"There will be docents (guides/educators) at every garden to talk about various aspects of community gardening," said organizer Michelle Gorham, assistant community gardens program manager at GSA.
From soil recommendations to what types of veggies thrive in the gardens, from finding and acquiring plots of land and materials to organizing a community of neighbors to participate, garden custodians will be on hand with talks and demonstrations throughout the morning.
The tour is the first of its kind in San Antonio.
"We came up with the idea by accident when planning the Eastside Garden Walk," Gorham said. "It sat there collecting dust for about a year ... the tour is the day after the Food Policy Council Conference, so we organized it to be one of their (featured) tours as well as a public event."
The route map has been kept hush-hush to encourage folks to actually purchase tickets, the proceeds of which go directly to GSA and the more than 30 community gardens the land conservancy supports.
This brings me to a third thing that I enjoy, but don't do enough of: supporting environmental nonprofits.
"Green Spaces Alliance" is a much more accessible name than its former nomenclature as Bexar Land Trust. The latter brings to mind complicated paperwork, lawyers and contracts (not that any of those things are "bad," it just doesn't sound very fun and engaging).
"Land conservancy is a very esoteric concept to people," Gorham said as we talked in the GSA office. Towers of boxes and random supplies loomed around us – organized and well-used. "The nice thing about the other programs (of GSA) is that they are tangible products (the general population) can wrap their minds around."
Indeed. I "get" SicloVerde, their Community Gardens Program, their Picture your World Youth Photography Project, and other community outreach programming – but I needed some help understanding what exactly it is that GSA does in terms of land conservation. GSA Executive Director Susan Hughes eloquently (and patiently) explains it often.
"Our primary focus is to conserve as much land as possible to protect the Edwards Aquifer," Hughes said. "The best way to do that is to acquire land over the aquifer – particularly over recharge zones – through conservation easements."
"No one can ever develop on these easements (GSA has three) – even if they pass the land down to the original owner's family who wants to," said Blair Condon, research and communications manager. "It's a voluntary agreement between the land owner and agencies to give up development rights, often in exchange for a tax incentive."
Once a property is under a conservation easement, GSA then has to maintain and monitor the land. The organization has helped conserve more than 200,000 acres of land so far, according to its website, "1,681 acres of land for the City of San Antonio’s Aquifer Protection Initiative under the Proposition Three Program ... (and) acquired 29,461 acres so far under the Proposition One Aquifer Protection Initiative, and we are working on the preservation of additional properties."
The GSA also maintains two donated parcels of land of more than 100 acres, holds public educational events, hosts community garden workshops, hosts lectures and seminars, participates in local conversations about land use even outside of the aquifer (like the recent Bracken Bat Cave/housing development) and leads nature hikes...
But I digress (happily).
The SicloVerde tour will visit:
- River Road Community Garden
- Landa Community Garden
- Olmos Park Terrace Community Garden
- Beacon Hill Community Garden
- Jefferson Community Garden
- The Gardens of St. Therese
Helmets are required of all participants (drat!) but a limited number will be available to borrow. Register online at www.greensatx.org or at the GSA booth on Saturday morning (7 a.m. to 9 a.m.). The registration fee can be paid with cash (preferred), check or credit card.