Fair Oaks kids grow pandemic side project in backyard garden

During World War II, Victory Gardens were all the rage. In order to help stave off a food shortage, people planted vegetable gardens in their yards. Not only did they help make sure the soldiers off fighting had enough to eat but they gave the people a purpose and helped them feel like they were contributing something of value during the war.

The springtime start of the coronavirus pandemic this year coincided with a rebirth of the home garden for many. For the Gordon family of Fair Oaks, it was time to tear up the backyard to try something new — and old.

Tavon Gordon, 17, is used to spending his summers in basketball camps with his friends and Del Campo High School basketball teammates Jackson Taylor, Brayden White and Damjan Agovic. As it became clear in March the summer was going to look very different for the Gordons’ eldest son and his friends, the idea came quickly into place.

The Gordons knew Tavon and his friends would need a way to get together outside and have a safe activity during quarantine. They consulted Kenneth Karl White — one of their neighbors and Brayden’s father — who is a very experienced gardener. Game plans were drawn and the boys traded basketball drills for urban farming.

“When COVID first hit in the middle of March, we were all trying to figure out what is ‘shelter in place and why is there no toilet paper?’” said Chantell Gordon, Tavon’s mom. “And wondering if we would run out of food — What’s going to happen? Our neighbor grew up on a farm and has a garden at his house. They even have chickens and a greenhouse, and he’s rented land somewhere else in Sacramento so he can have a bigger plot. He asked us what we thought about doing this.”

The families decided to use the Gordon’s backyard to start another garden, and have the boys’ core group of friends work on it.

“It would give them a chance to do something — to be outside, and it’s a skill they can take with them,” said Chantell.

White drew up plans based on what was best to plant at the time, and how long those plants would need before they could be harvested. The Gordons tilled up their backyard. Both Chantell and her husband Greg were mostly working from home and figured the money they were saving on gas to commute would offset the costs of getting started with the garden. Whether it did or not, it would be worth it to keep the boys busy with something other than just video games. In April, the families all put on their masks and headed to the nursery to pick up their first plants.

Under the guidance of their neighbor, they were starting to grow tomatoes, peppers, corn, squash and strawberries.

“It’s been so cool to see it happening,” said Chantell.

The garden has proved to be a silver lining during stay-at-home orders, since they never would have had the time for something like it under normal circumstances.

Being able to see the actual produce they’ve worked so hard to grow is also a nice incentive. According to Chantell, “I’ve always worked, I’ve always made easy meals. But I have to say, a couple weeks ago, I went out to the garden and picked tomatoes. I went on Pinterest to see what I could make with a bunch of Roma tomatoes. I had everything else — I had garlic and pasta and seasonings. I could make tomato sauce. We all loved it.”

Aside from garden-fresh meals, the boys have gained life experience. When a plot is done being harvested, they’re preparing the plot for the next plants. They’ve learned to have patience while they waited for their work to pay off. They’re now very aware of where food comes from — it doesn’t just appear at the grocery store. Now they’re doing the work while balancing distance learning. It’s something they can easily take into their adult lives.

For Tavon Gordon, “The best part about working on it has been the time I got to spend with my friends, because it was a very big process.”

While he expected it to be hard work, Tavon didn’t know initially how much time it would actually take. Now the verdict is in: It’s totally worth it. Especially for the strawberries and tomatoes. “I did eat a lot of both of those,” Tavon said.

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