But that isn’t the whole story.
Her yard at home might be bare — much to the disappointment of friends and visitors — but that’s because Pilar spends most of her time starting 400 varieties of vegetable and herb seedlings in an old greenhouse — a.k.a. Sunnyside Organic Seedlings — tucked into an industrial zone in Richmond, California.
A neighboring greenhouse hosts the beginnings of an aquaculture system (with a Target-bought above-ground swimming pool full of hundreds of three-inch koi fish), and a third holds 10 or so chickens, including a few accidental roosters who will soon be somebody’s dinner.
Outside, one of her staff, Kenji Warren, keeps a vegetable garden for the Bay Area Rescue Mission — at a volunteer day last week, a dozen volunteers harvested more than 100 pounds of Swiss chard and planted a few hundred cloves of garlic, most of which will be donated to the organization’s food kitchen.
The remaining greenhouses and gravel-strewn lawn on her 7-acre plot give plenty of space for dreaming, she said.
After moving here from another Richmond site early this year, “suddenly there’s room for vision. Before, I had no space to think about anything other than Sunnyside.” Will that mean more chickens? Building an office on-site for her boyfriend’s business? A few more rows for Kenji to tend? Crazy ideas — or at least good crazy ideas — are welcome, she said. So are donations.
In the meantime, she’s happy with all her seed start trays. Walking down the rows of upcycled wire, pipe, and garden hose tables, she points out a tray covered in what looks like short white hairs — these onions are one of her favorites, she said, especially when they’ve just started to sprout.
But organic, heirloom onions, oregano, arugula, and artichokes aren’t the only things she hopes to start here — in addition to selling seedlings, she said, “we’re growing farmers.”
In Richmond, not only are climate conditions ideal, but there’s also high unemployment.
Greenhouse Manager Rebecca Blanck-Weiss explains, “our larger goal is to provide job training for the community through sustainable business and organic food.” That means bringing in local students, maintaining a coterie of volunteers, and donating food and seedlings to various organizations.
Sunnyside’s seedlings are sold at more than 40 Bay Area garden centers, or you can find Pilar manning the stand at several local farmer’s market, including the Sunday San Rafael Civic Center market, the Tuesday Novato market, and — my own personal favorite — the Saturday Grand-Lake market in Oakland.
Interested in volunteering? Follow their Facebook page for more info, but volunteer day is generally the last Friday of the month, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Your time earns you lunch and free seedlings — who could refuse?