SERIES HIGHLIGHT BELOW … some great information about the multiple values of community gardens
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Community gardens: Year-long series comes to a close
November 2, 2011
By Jeff Spurrier
This series began after I graduated from the UC Cooperative Extension’s master gardener class in spring 2010. My education continued in community gardens from Ventura to Long Beach, from the foothills to the coast, from the inner city to the ex-urbs.
Microclimates, demographics and histories of the gardens may have differed, but one commonality stood out: No matter the ZIP Code, gardeners were generous with their time, expertise, seedlings and harvest. It sounds like a cliche (or a statement of the obvious) to say that community gardens build community, but after seeing how these gardens can be good neighbors, raising property values and welcoming newcomers with open arms (and full sun), the cliche just sounds like fact.
I started in the Highland Park neighborhood in Northeast L.A., where the relatively new Milagro Allegro Community Garden had risen in an urban community where nutrition and green space were big concerns.
On the Westside I visited the Main Street garden in Santa Monica, one of the most public of the community gardens. It often was open for strolling tourists, and the mishmash of garden decor and fences gave it a great hippie vibe.
At Park Drive, also in Santa Monica, I learned how the garden had been made more accessible for wheelchairs. My wife, photographer Ann Summa, came on board, and suddenly I had great visuals every week.
The gardeners that followed came in seemingly every form, from a 10-year-old intent on growing a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich to octogenarians. Some gardens had strict regulations about what was allowed, whereas one garden in Boyle Heights didn’t bother with private plots. Community meant communal.
Team-building worked at the bigger spaces, most impressively at Ocean View Farms, where dedicated work crews produced high-quality compost for all its gardeners — nearly 500 people — and then some.
Two issues were universal: water and pests. At Stanford-Avalon, the growers flooded the land. On a rooftop in downtown L.A., the Skid Row Community Garden consisted solely of improvised self-watering containers. Monterey Road in Glendale had the good fortune to receive recycled water at a cut rate. For pests, most commonly gophers, people set traps, wired their plots, planted gopher splurge, even installed sound generators.
Everywhere I went, community gardens had an effect that went beyond the garden’s fences. Schools used them to broaden outreach or to teach cultural heritage. The gardens erased blight while uniting neighbors who had been strangers.