Thursday, March 8, 2012

Community Gardens

The 1st and Elm community garden.  Photo by Cosette Macari

Community gardens have been popping up around Long Beach in attempt to provide an organic green area in an otherwise urban neighborhood.  Some gardens are operated under the umbrella of non-profits such as Long Beach Organic (LBO) or the Long Beach Community Garden Association.  Others are independently owned community gardens.

The 1st and Elm community garden is independently owned but was originally managed by Long Beach Organic (LBO), a non-profit organization focused on creating and maintaining organic community gardens in Long Beach.  This particular garden was LBO’s first community garden established in 1995.  The garden split from LBO in 2009 when when the organization was in disarray.
Between 2005 and 2008 the executive director of LBO changed five times, resulting in an unorganized and non-committal board.  Former LBO board member Serena Stevens said, “I put blood, sweat and tears into that organization and no one was helping me.”  Stevens felt there were too many political issues for the board to stay focused on the gardens and surrounding communities. 

“They [LBO] owed a lot of money when I joined,” Steven continued, “Everyone was too focused on their own self-interests to be making any significant progress.”  Stevens was with LBO from 2005 until 2008 when she left and joined Los Angeles Master Gardeners.

Jim Brasher, the current manager of the 1st and Elm garden, is also a former board member of LBO.  He has managed the garden for the last 13 years, the majority of which has been under the umbrella of LBO.  “They want to have every garden run exactly the same way but it won’t work.  Every garden has to be different,” Brasher said in regards to his split from LBO.  Since the garden has always been on the property of private landowner Helen Woo, Brasher worked with her to obtain the lease instead of LBO.

LBO since then has become far more organized and they now manage six community gardens in the Long Beach area, including the newly reopened Wild Oats garden on 10th and Grand St.  The majority of their gardens currently have waiting lists for hopeful gardeners which one can sign up for through LBO’s website.  There is a membership fee of $20 and rent is $0.25 per square foot per six-month season along with a water surcharge of $0.15 per square foot.  Spencer Langdon, the current president of LBO was unreachable along with any other board members.

The Wild Oats garden before it was closed and reopened.  Photo Courtesy of LBO

Under Brasher’s management, any community member may lease a 5x12 plot from the 1st and Elm garden for $60 a year.  There are currently 13 gardeners leasing plots from Brasher.  The back of the garden is reserved for fruit trees and growing produce to donate to Christian Outreach in Action, another non-profit serving the Long Beach area.

The garden is a small green patch in the middle of Downtown Long Beach.  From the inside the garden, one would never know a bustling urban community surrounds it.  From outside the garden, the fruit trees and produce plots are not even recognizable.  Yet it contains beautiful mosaic paintings by students, funded by the Long Beach Community Foundation and is a certified wildlife habitat as its plants provides homes to creatures that would not be able to live in Long Beach otherwise.

Mosaic paintings in the 1st and Elm Garden.  Photo by Cosette Macari

The 1st and Elm garden participates in community events such as the annual SoundWalk produced by the Long Beach artist group, FLOOD and the Art Walk during the summer. 

“We try to be as involved with the community as possible and teach people about sustainability,” Brasher said, “We have organic wine tasting and have even had a couple small weddings here.” Brasher also occasionally hosts classes for preschool students to  learn about gardening and sustainability.  “It’s about people coming together for a common purpose...produce!”

Brasher plans to expand community outreach by forming a non-profit of his own focused on drought tolerant landscaping, growing California native plants, and sustainable food production.  The City of Long Beach currently has an incentive program called Lawn to Garden where they will rebate $2.50 per square foot of lawn removed from front yards and parkways and replaced with California friendly landscaping.

Any Long Beach community member may start a community garden on their own.  The City of Long Beach is currently allowing any part of a park in Long Beach to be transformed into a community garden as long as there are ten committed members.  Long Beach community members may also get involved through the Long Beach Community Garden Association, Inc which has a large community garden near El Dorado Park.

-Cosette Macari

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