Rev. Dr. Melinda McLain of Mira Vista United Church of Christ and Gavin Raders of Planting Justice. The two groups bought Adachi Florist & Nursery, where they’ll build a new nursery, community meeting space, nonprofit café and space to honor the legacy of Japanese-American nurseries. Photo: Deonna Anderson

Ashley Brown and Coleman Reif squatted down to weed the overgrown plants on the vacant grounds of what was once the Adachi Florist & Nursery, a Japanese-American business that closed in June 2017. They were two of a few dozen volunteers helping to get the property back in working order, removing items left behind in the building and clearing overgrowth along the fencing.

For decades, Adachi Florist & Nursery was a go-to place for El Sobrante residents and those in surrounding cities to pick up plants, cut flowers and garden tools.

“They had some of the best soil,” said Brown, a Pinole resident who shared she was sad when she learned about the nursery’s closure. But Brown was excited when Reif, her husband, told her the property would be re-opening for a new hybrid purpose. In short, it will continue to be a nursery but also serve as a community meeting space and café.

In April, The Good Table LLC, a joint partnership between Mira Vista United Church of Christ in El Cerrito and Planting Justice, an Oakland-based food sovereignty and economic justice nonprofit, bought the property outright from a developer who had purchased it from Paul Adachi. The Adachi family was one of the early Japanese-American families in the floricultural business. Brothers Isaburo and Sadajiro Adachi started the business in 1905, with a greenhouse in El Cerrito that later became a large garden center on San Pablo Avenue. The El Cerrito nursery closed in 1992 to make way for a Home Depot, and the El Sobrante location at 5166 Sobrante Ave. was the last remaining location of the family business. But without anyone to take over, Paul Adachi had no choice but to sell the nursery when he was ready to retire.

One of the items left behind in the building after Adachi Nursery closed in June 2017. Photo: Deonna Anderson

The developer had plans to turn the 4,700-square-foot building and 1.3-acre grounds into a gas station, what would be the 14th in the community. When the developer purchased the property, more than 900 people signed a petition against turning the nursery into a service station or liquor store.

“We have 13 gas stations and we have 13,000 people,” said Rev. Dr. Melinda McLain, pastor at Mira Vista. “Everybody agreed they did not want a gas station. We didn’t need another one. And they didn’t want to lose this historic Japanese nursery.”

“We have 13 gas stations and we have 13,000 people. Everybody agreed they did not want a gas station.” —  Rev. Dr. Melinda McLain

Planting Justice and Mira Vista first met in September 2018, after they both expressed interest to the developer, in purchasing the property.

“It’s just [this] really beautiful connection. Melinda and I hit it off right away,” said Gavin Raders, co-founder and co-director at Planting Justice. “We embarked on a pretty intensive process. We had pro-bono legal support from UC Berkeley, and [UC] Hastings [School of Law].”

Raders said that Planting Justice and Mira Vista’s resources — human capital and financial capital, respectively, along with similar missions around food justice — complemented one another.

The church had been looking for a property to purchase since 2017 and used money from selling its El Cerrito campus in 2006 to buy the old nursery for about $1.1 million. Planting Justice is currently fundraising $700,000 that it anticipates is needed for renovations, $150,000 through a crowd-funding campaign and the rest from grants.

Volunteers Coleman Reif and Ashley Brown help weed the former historic Japanese nursery, now owned by The Good Table. Photo: Deonna Anderson

The Good Table has three main goals for the space when it opens in early 2020. The goals align both with Planting Justice’s work and a plan that Mira Vista’s two dozen members started developing in 2014.

First, it will have a “pay-what-you-can” café that will offer coffee drinks and grab-and-go food options made by local food entrepreneurs. The Good Table has been learning how to establish such a café from One World Everybody Eats, a Texas-based nonprofit dedicated to increasing food security that has built a pay-what-you-can nonprofit restaurant model.

“What we love about that model is that it really does engage people, the haves and the have nots, in the same venture,” said McLain, noting that her members wanted to steer away from food work like soup kitchens. “For a lot of folks with food insecurity, there’s no dignity in going to a place that’s just a handout. They want to be able to go to a place where everybody goes.”

The Good Table will also include a store that will sell farming tools and plants grown at Planting Justice’s East Oakland nursery and its four-acre “mother farm” located near the Adachi property. Planting Justice currently grows more than 1,100 varieties of fruiting trees and shrubs. The retail venture will also employ people with jobs that start at $17.50 per hour and be an extension of its re-entry work program, hiring formerly incarcerated people who experience barriers to employment.

Thirdly, there will be gathering space where Mira Vista members will meet for service and where other residents and community groups can host events, classes and “a place where people can get to know each other,” according to Colleen Rodger, project manager for The Good Table, who said the El Sobrante community is activated to do positive work, but is not organized.

Raders with The Good Table’s project manager Colleen Rodger and Planting Justice nursery technician Charles Hutchinson. Photo: Deonna Anderson

The Good Table, its team imagines, will be a place for people to get organized. And Rodger, Raders and McLain mentioned numerous other ideas for the partnership. Many of those ideas, such as developing a section of the business modeled after Berkeley’s Cheese Board Collective and hosting a regular gospel brunch, will happen further down the line.

“The possibilities are endless,” Rodger said.

But when it opens, one of those ideas is more doable. It will include a museum-like space to honor the legacy of Japanese-American nurseries in the Bay Area and specifically the Adachi Nursery.

Leading up to its official opening date, which is still to be determined and will be partially dictated by getting through a three to four-month process with the Contra Costa Planning Department and completing renovations, The Good Table plans to host monthly events at the property.