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FW: MG, Ag Issues: Community Gardening in LA

  • Subject: [cg] FW: MG, Ag Issues: Community Gardening in LA
  • From: "Betsy Johnson" betsy@bgjohnson.com
  • Date: Thu, 3 Mar 2005 14:31:51 -0500

Great article today in LA TImes by Lili Singer about community gardening
in LA County.  I'm quoted, and several of the gardens we work with
frequently are featured.  Thanks, Lili!
article can be viewed at:
Los Angeles Time
March 3, 2005

Together from the ground up
If you don't have a plot in a community garden, you might spend a year
on a waiting list. In these places of kinship and cooperation -- and
endless rules -- the vegetables are almost an afterthought.

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 languages.

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

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 educational. 

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

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

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.

Cope raises flowers, bulbs and berries, and she expands her "vegetable
repertoire" with crops she has not eaten before. This year, she grew -
and liked - kohlrabi, a cabbage relative.

"Gardening makes you less afraid," she says. "It reminds you that 'there
is a season,' and that things will be OK. Making plants grow brings you

Education is part of the goal at the Learning Garden at Venice High
School. Students from its horticulture classes and volunteers from the
community tend to the plantings. 

Surrounding the students' rectangular plots, designated "garden master"
David King has planted a geometric patchwork of mounded beds with
unusual plants, cultivated communally under his tutelage - "things you
won't find in a store," he says. 

On any given visit, gardeners may find themselves working with Chinese,
ayurvedic or Native American herbs; California native, succulent or
aquatic plants; heirloom apples, garlic and roses; or Florence fennel,
fava beans, strawberries or kale. Crops sales subsidize the garden, and
the excess harvest goes to the homeless. 

The Learning Garden also has a compost coordinator, Brian Bailey, who
manages a demonstration site funded with an Environmental Protection
Agency grant. The garden's recycling efforts also include lining walking
paths with old newspapers topped with chippings, to smother weeds.

Some locals gather on weekends for tai chi instruction, and King says
gardeners often hang out on a patio and talk between shifts.

"It feels like I work in someone's kitchen," he says. "The sense of
community is really profound." 

How to start up 

The urban landscape is dotted with thriving community gardens, and new
ones are sprouting up regularly. 

For information on gardens in Los Angeles County, call the Common Ground
Garden Program at (323) 260-3348. A downloadable start-up guide and a
roster of gardens is at celosangeles.ucdavis.edu/garden/pubs/index.html.

The website of the American Community Gardening Assn. provides
publications, monthly tips and networking opportunities for garden
professionals and volunteers at http://www.communitygarden.org . 

Some community gardens operate their own websites, providing more
insights into how the organizations operate. Examples include Oak Park
Community Garden (www.oakparkgardeners.com
<http://www.oakparkgardeners.com/> ) and the Learning Garden
(www.thelearninggarden.org <http://www.thelearninggarden.org/> ). 


Ciao for now.

Yvonne Savio
Common Ground Garden Program Manager
University of California Cooperative Extension in Los Angeles County
Mail:  PO Box 22255, Los Angeles CA 90022
Location:  4800 E. Cesar E. Chavez Avenue, Los Angeles CA 90022
Phone:  323-260-3407
Fax:            323-881-0067
Email:  ydsavio@ucdavis.edu
Website:        http://celosangeles.ucdavis.edu/garden/
Master Gardener Email Gardening Helpline:
Master Gardener Phone Gardening Helpline:  323-260-3238

Volunteers of the Common Ground Garden Program help low-income and
limited-resource county residents to grow and eat more nutritious
vegetables and fruits.  Programs include Master Gardener volunteers
(seasonal gardening presentations) and Fresh From The Garden volunteers
(simple nutrition and food safety presentations).  We work primarily
with community gardens, school gardens, seniors, and homeless and
battered women's shelters. 

2004 Winner
"Feeding the Hungry"
Garden Crusader Award
National Gardening Association 

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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