Pastor John Schmidt knew “cielo azul” meant blue sky, but it was welcome news to him that cielo also meant heaven.

“That’s very fitting,” he said as he walked toward a 1½-acre plot on the west side of Santa Rosa Alliance Church property.

The triangular plot will be the site of Cielo Azul Farm, a community garden that brings together the efforts of Alliance Church, St. Joseph Health System and Fulton Road day laborers.

The garden will provide about a dozen Fulton Day laborers and their families with extra wages during these tough economic times, said Leticia Romero, a community organizer for St. Joseph Health System.

For several years, Romero has worked with day laborers who gather near the corner of Fulton and River roads. The St. Joseph organizer quickly established a table and hiring system that guaranteed a minimum of $12 an hour for those workers who participated in an orderly hiring process.

Day laborers were informed of workers’ rights and how to go about getting unpaid wages from unscrupulous employers. Workers were also given free medical screenings, courtesy of St. Joseph Health system.

Then the economy crashed. Construction work, home improvement and frequent yard work all began to dry up. About a year ago, the group found a solution.

“Because of the economy, jobs were scarce,” Romero said. “There was a lot more competition amongst the men who were there. Again, over and over, they would say, ‘We need to work, we need to work?’ “

Romero brought in an expert on cooperatives from the Insight Center for Community Economic Development in Oakland. Workers were trained during evening courses and a small project began to take root.

Then, someone mentioned that the pastor at Santa Rosa Alliance Church, located at the corner of Occidental and Fulton roads, was looking for ways to do more for the community.

Romero said Schmidt reacted with excitement to the project, and that when he said he could make 1½ acres available, it quickly grew in scope.

“That’s when we realized that it could be a farm and it became a three-fold project,” she said. “It could generate income for the men and women involved, families could have access to fresh healthy vegetables and it could give back to the community.”

The garden will compete at local farmers’ markets, but Cielo Azul is also building relationships with local community clinics that will allow them to sell their produce at the health centers.

The community garden, which will grow chiles, tomatoes, radishes, onion, egg plant, beets, lettuce and cucumber, also will provide periodic donations to the Redwood Empire Food Bank.

Schmidt said the workers came up with the name, which is posted on a sign near the church’s Occidental Road entrance.

They called it Cielo Azul Farm, using the English “farm” rather than the Spanish “granja,” because they wanted to reach out to the English-speaking population.

“I think that just by having the interaction with folks in different populations allows us to learn from one and other and, you know, kindly inquire about each other,” she said.

The groundbreaking celebration will be held today between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.

You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 521-5213 or

Source: The Press Democrat

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