Three Sisters Gardens: Growing food and community in Broderick

By Stacy Grow

When Broderick resident Alfred Melbourne was released from prison three years ago, he knew he wanted to give back to his community. But he wasn’t sure how. He had just served 18 years in prison, due to bad choices he made in his youth. Prison was “a horrible experience” for Alfred. “Sitting in jail, I wondered how I could stop people from having to experience what I did. I wanted to give young people a better opportunity.”
Last year, Alfred was intrigued when local activist Francisco Gonzales offered the use of an empty lot on C and 4th Streets as a potential space for a community garden. Alfred accepted the offer, but his vision was more expansive than just planting a garden. He wanted to create a program where he could teach young people how to grow food and eat healthier, while providing mentoring and community engagement.
The first step to achieving his dream? Removing 30 bags of garbage from the vacant property and testing the soil for contaminants. When the results came back clean, Alfred planted seeds and installed water lines. Friends and neighbors came out to support the garden. The initial crop of summer vegetables grew well, and harvests were distributed to community members.
Last August, Alfred officially started a nonprofit called Three Sisters Gardens. “Three sisters” refers to the trio of beans, corn, and squash that Native Americans planted together to strengthen and support each other’s growth. Drawing on his Native American ancestry, Alfred based the nonprofit on “traditional native teachings of protecting our Mother Earth and respecting all living things.”
Alfred says that his goal is to empower and inspire youth through gardening. “Being born and raised in Broderick, I’ve seen a lot of young people who got in trouble due to lack of programs that help them. Yolo is the third highest county in the state for juveniles being involved in the criminal justice system. I wanted to create a program where we can bring young people out and teach them something they can use.”
Alfred wants to work with more young men like Miguel Lopez, a frequent Three Sisters volunteer who lives across the street from the garden site. With a mom who leaves for 12-hour work shifts at 1 a.m. and a father who has always lived elsewhere, high school sophomore Miguel has long had an abundance of unsupervised free time. Last year, Miguel says his grades were poor and he had started to “get in trouble”. Then he met Alfred.
For the first time in his life, Miguel began learning how to grow food. He says volunteering has been “beneficial” for him. “It makes me feel good because I get to learn about vegetables from Alfred. It also keeps me out of trouble.” Miguel says he wants to get more of his friends to come out and volunteer. Alfred notes this is exactly what he wants to accomplish. “Now, as Miguel comes out, he sees there’s a place where he can get respect and acknowledgement from people who are looking out for him. He has a safe place where he can be himself. We want to get more youth involved where they can have a place where they can learn.”
Alfred is both pleased with the progress he has made towards this goal and excited for what the future holds. The community stepped up to support Three Sisters Gardens on December 22 when the nonprofit held its first fundraiser, a tamale feed at the Bryte VFW Hall. Funds were raised to support the gardens and over 100 community members attended, including City Council member Martha Guerrero. Guerrero says that the work being done at Three Sisters Gardens “is enriching our community”. She calls it “a valuable project that teaches culture, history, values, and community collaboration. I look forward to proving additional support in any way I can.”
According to Alfred, his work is just beginning. Starting this spring, he will actively farm a second West Sac location, an urban farm at Douglas Street and Cummings Way. Plans are also under way for a second Three Sisters Gardens site at D-Q University, a tribal college located in Davis. Readers can follow “Three Sisters Gardens” on Facebook, or email threesistersgardens@yahoo.com for more information.

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