Community gardens grow in Van Nuys and Long Beach
Daily News, By Sandra Barrera, Staff Writer
Scott Wyskocil rarely, if ever, shops for produce. Since the early 1970s, the North Hills man has been growing his own food on rented land in a community garden – a movement experiencing a renaissance of sorts as people look for ways to become more self-sufficient in light of economic and environmental woes.
“We do freeze a lot of what we grow and take time to can certain things like tomato sauce, which generally lasts us throughout the year,” says the 52-year-old, who can be found each weekend working his eight 10- by 30-foot plots at the Van Nuys Airport Community Garden, one of the oldest in greater Los Angeles – and still thriving.
And even as this urban farmer now prepares for a summer crop of tomatoes, sweet corn, beans, cucumber and melons, new ground will be breaking elsewhere across the Valley.
“I started realizing how important it is for people to connect with the soil again,” says Norma Bonilla, a Santa Monica master gardener-in-training who is in the midst of launching the Tarzana Community Garden at 18702 Erwin St. as just one of many she hopes to open across L.A. County. “When people connect with the soil, a lot of healing occurs.
“When we can grow our own vegetables in our back yard or in our apartments, which I’m also doing … you don’t have to rely on big heavy trucks anymore polluting our city,” she says. “It’s like, `Wake up!’ We really get to do this now, we get to go back to our roots.”
At least four new gardens are built annually throughout Los Angeles, which is more than double the rate from two years ago, says Mary Tokita, president of the Los Angeles Garden Council, an all-volunteer organization that helps community gardens get up and running.
The economy, recent food scares and concerns about global warming are key triggers of the recent wave, as is the highly publicized White House garden.
“People are seeing that garden as `Oh, wow! I can do that in my back yard,”‘ says Wyskocil. “And for cities that have community gardens like Los Angeles, it just opens that door a little wider, especially if you’re living in an apartment. Now, suddenly, you have an opportunity to participate in something that for the most part Angelenos can’t do because of the nature of how the city was designed, how many people are here and how much land has been taken up by buildings.
“That was really part of Mayor (Tom) Bradley’s original idea,” he says, referring to the five-term L.A. mayor (1973 to 1993), during whose administration citywide community gardens took off.
In fact, it was during Bradley’s first term that Wyskocil, who was in high school and living with his parents in North Hills, had decided to look for a place to start growing his own food.
Today, he’s surrounded by a diverse group of people – from those who use their gardens to sustain their families to hobbyists like he is.
“For the most part what we’re growing looks good and it tastes good,” Wyskocil says. “It’s ripened on the vine and there are no chemicals involved … so there is a reward in picking it, and bringing it home, and eating it.”
Tokita says the freshness factor is a big selling point for new urban gardeners.
“Food that’s grown fresh and picked right from the garden tastes really good,” she says. “It’s so much better than anything you can get in the grocery store.”
No need to tell that to Cathy Morrison, a dynamic retiree who has spent the last year spearheading a grassroots movement for the creation of community gardens throughout Pasadena. And she admits it started for personal reasons.
Morrison always maintained a vegetable patch at her home in San Marino, where she and her husband raised their children. But the couple sold that house recently to go urban, and it’s a move she soon regretted.
“There are thousands of us sitting in those little condominium units, and many of us do not have the opportunity to grow anything,” she says. “I was becoming frustrated because I wanted to garden.”
She’ll soon have her chance.
This fall, the Pasadena Community Garden Project will debut its initial garden on the grounds of Day One, a community-based organization that mentors at-risk youths whose kids will collaborate on the project. The small but visible garden will be located at 175 N. Euclid Ave. near L.A. County Superior Court.
“Our thought is to put a sweet little garden here and use it as our calling card as we go back to the city of Pasadena or to any potential donors, so they’ll have a visual appreciation of what can be accomplished,” Morrison says. “It’s far more than just planting tomatoes and corn and flowers. It builds community.”
For Adriana Martinez, the desire to build relationships in her urban neighborhood is what led to the creation of the Wrigley Village Community Garden, which opened in September at 2044 Pacific Ave., a major thoroughfare in Long Beach.
Today, the garden is bustling with activity.
It features a communal grove, a children’s garden where the young gardeners grow food to be donated to local homeless charities, and about 25 10-by-10-foot garden beds for its paying members, who are charged seasonally, amounting to $60 a year.
Martinez, 33, also maintains a plot where she’s in the midst of putting in summer plantings.
It’s all dirt now, but it wasn’t long ago the garden bed was overflowing with nasturtiums, onions, garlic and tons of celery she happily shared with the other gardeners and her neighbors living in the under-served area where she and her husband “own a mortgage” on a house.
“I don’t need a community garden,” Martinez says. “I already have a modest-size garden at my home, but it was a need for the community. We don’t have a lot of supermarkets and there’s a lack of green space. Other than the garden, I don’t have any reason to go down to Pacific Avenue, and it’s sad because we really need some improvements.
“But the garden is the one positive thing there,” she says. “And it’s very pretty.”
For more information about community gardens, go to www.LAGardenCouncil.org. To see a list of local gardens, click on the “Gardens” link.
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