LandPaths director promotes community through Roseland farm
Eight years ago, Roseland’s 6-acre Bayer Farm was an empty, trash-filled field in a neglected and marginalized area. Today it is a vibrant nature hub with 30 garden plots for individual families, areas for children to play, goats to pet, paved paths to walk and opportunities for community interaction and learning, such as a reading program for children and families.
The idea began with LandPaths, a nonprofit conservation organization that saw the potential of Bayer Farm. It was located near a low-income, heavily Latino neighborhood and had the potential to reach a more diverse audience.
Omar Gallardo, the group’s outreach and diversity director, played a key role in making that possible. He came in three years ago and began forging the community collaboration that brought Bayer Farm to life by serving as a liaison between LandPaths, Santa Rosa’s Recreation and Parks Department, the community and volunteers.
“I helped develop leaders to actually engage with the program and take responsibility in the garden,” Gallardo said, “and fostered and coordinated many projects that we now have, like the free lunch program and a reading program.”
It was a project that resonated with Gallardo, who developed his love of the outdoors as a child.
“In Mexico, public parks are part of daily life,” he said. “Even the smallest town has a zocalo, a public plaza, where people hang out. Urban parks are extremely important to neighborhoods here, too. They’re the front door of a community, places where people come together, hang out, share and celebrate.
“That’s particularly true for people who don’t have yards and gardens of their own. At Bayer, it’s great to see people coming together from everywhere — from Michoacán and other parts of Mexico, or Congolese, Vietnamese, Africans, Caucasians.
“It’s a place to teach the quintessential Sonoma County lessons of treating Mother Earth with respect, a way to invest in our children’s future.”
Gallardo was born in Michoacán, Mexico, and came to California with his parents at 5. A few years later, when his father was injured, the family returned to Mexico and began farming.
“We kids loved that,” he said. “We loved the outdoors. A river was close by; we grew corn and vegetables. My dad explained that our well-being depended on what we produced and how we took care of the land.”
Eventually the family returned to Sonoma County, where Gallardo continued enjoying the outdoors.
“We spent a lot of time at the Jewel of Sonoma County, Parque de los Patos,” he said. “That’s what Latinos call the combined Spring Lake Regional Park and Howarth Park, Park of the Ducks. We went to Lake Sonoma a lot, too, which wasn’t far from our home in Geyserville.”
Gallardo finished high school and began working his way through Sonoma State University with the goal of becoming a teacher. One of his summer jobs was with the California Mini-Corps Program, which provides instruction for migrant students. At a one-week outdoor education program, he went camping for the first time.
“That experience rekindled for me what I valued about living in Mexico,” he said, “being outdoors, knowing and loving the land. I got that love first from my parents, but I developed it further and understood it more deeply when I was with Mini-Corps.”