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Community gardens - common ground in Los Angeles

  • Subject: [cg] Community gardens - common ground in Los Angeles
  • From: Don Boekelheide dboekelheide@yahoo.com
  • Date: Wed, 11 Jan 2006 12:30:34 -0800 (PST)

Together from the ground up
Los Angeles Times, San Fernando Valley edition
(posted Jan 11, 2006)

By Lili Singer, Special to The Times

Some gardeners want fresh, pesticide-free harvests.
Some want their children to know how it feels to work
the soil. Some simply lack a yard where they live. 

But if there's one thing that the boosters of
community gardens do share, it's common ground.
"You come here to forget all your problems and to be
with other gardeners," says Ed Mosman, a retired
electrical engineer who joined a Mar Vista community
garden called Ocean View Farms in 1982. "We've had
people meet here and get married." 

Adds Susan Dworski, a graphic artist, freelance writer
and six-year regular at the same garden: "It's my gym
and my church." 

Community gardens usually have rules: Straight-sided
beds, tended by one or more individuals, are standard,
as are annual fees, required work hours, strict
organic practices and restrictions on fruit trees,
tall plants or structures that cast shade. But they
are also places of kinship and cooperation, as diverse
as the neighborhoods they occupy and the gardeners who
tend them.

"Each community garden is its own entity," says Yvonne
Savio, head of the University of California
Cooperative Extension's Common Ground Garden Program,
an umbrella organization that oversees and assists
community gardens in Los Angeles County. 

The Francis Avenue community garden occupies a tiny
lot in the Westlake neighborhood. Alhambra's plots sit
on a leach field, so no manures can be used. The
garden at North Hollywood High School straddles campus
and an adjacent property that includes an orchard. 

Manzanita in Silver Lake may be the smallest. Its
10-foot-wide plots run down both sides of a public
staircase. The Long Beach garden, by contrast, is so
huge that an entire section is devoted to growing
tomatoes for a food bank. Savio says the Crenshaw
garden is wonderful for its breadth of ethnicities and

All offer the chance to bond with others in the
community, often by tackling common challenges:
foraging rodents, heavy clay soil or perhaps an
infestation of late blight on tomatoes. Despite these
and other frustrations  finding and keeping a site,
scrounging for material donations, resolving disputes
 the movement is thriving. 

Although the number of gardens is in flux, more exist
now than at any time since the victory garden era of
World War II, according to the American Community
Gardening Assn. Most in Southern California have
waiting lists; Ocean View Farms, one of L.A.'s oldest
and largest, with 500 plots worked by 300 gardeners,
has a waiting list of more than 100 people and an
average wait of 12 to 18 months. 

"We've been doing this for more than a century," says
landscape architect Laura J. Lawson. "It's always been
hard and always been loved." 

Lawson, a Glendale native and former coordinator of
Berkeley Youth Alternatives' Community Garden Patch,
visited more than 100 spots while researching her
book, "City Bountiful: A Century of Community
Gardening in America," to be published in May by
University of California Press. 

She found that interest in community gardens surges
during wartime and when populations change because of
immigration or de-urbanization  in essence,
"anchoring communities with gaps," she says. In the
1890s the gardens were planted for sustenance, but
over time they became recreational, social and

"Community gardens are models of empowerment,
self-sufficiency and social ideals," Lawson says. "And
the people are so wonderful  the organizers and the

Frank Harris got hooked on heirloom tomatoes and Blue
Lake string beans while working at the Los Angeles
restaurant Campanile. He joined Ocean View Farms to
grow items he couldn't find at conventional markets.
He's now the garden's president.

Dworski, the graphic artist and writer, says gardeners
use their spaces in different ways and, in the
process, learn from one another. She mixes roses,
annuals, perennials, bulbs and edibles in a series of
terraced beds but says her garden neighbor "really
knows what she's doing."

The Oak Park Community Garden in eastern Ventura
County was founded on a formerly undeveloped corner
lot in May. Caterer Bobby Weisman has enjoyed bumper
crops of tomatoes and lettuce there after only two
seasons. He says newcomers don't realize how much they
can grow.

"A 10-by-20-foot plot can produce a lot of food for a
family of four," he says. "I tell my kids: The only
thing it doesn't make is ice cream sundaes." 

Weisman visits four or five times each week and never
brings his cellphone into the garden. "I stop by for
five minutes and leave three hours later," he says.
"It's such a reprieve from the world outside." 

Next to Weisman's plot is Kate Frankson's, a miniature
English garden in which bands of dianthus and Dusty
Miller contain vegetables and herbs. She attributes
the abundance to good soil, organic fertilizer and
guidance from another Oak Park regular, Jeanne Cope, a
hospice social worker who started gardening at her
grandmother's knee.

The American Community Gardening Association listserve is only one of ACGA's services to community gardeners. To learn more about the ACGA and to find out how to join, please go to http://www.communitygarden.org

To post an e-mail to the list:  community_garden@mallorn.com

To subscribe, unsubscribe or change your subscription:  https://secure.mallorn.com/mailman/listinfo/community_garden

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