When you picture a community garden, you might imagine neighbors gathering, chatting as they water tomatoes and attend gardening workshops. But before the dream of a community garden can become reality, a lot of planning, sweat, and persistence goes into it.
Lemon Grove’s Community Garden Board knows this to be true. Their garden, which is coming together in stages, has been a dream since 2008. Now, with the go-ahead from the city, along with the support of community organizations and neighbors, they are growing community in a once-vacant lot at the corner of Olive Street and Central Avenue.
Putting Down Roots
Anita Lopez states that in order for the city to lease the property to create the community garden, it wanted commitment from a community-based group. A team of volunteers elected leaders, drew up a business plan, and found a fiscal agent in THRIVE Lemon Grove, a nonprofit grassroots organization that focuses on improving the public safety and health of the city. In June 2018, the Lemon Grove Community Garden gained approval from City Council.
The community garden is part of the Healthy Eating Active Living (HEAL) Zone Coalition. Kaiser Permanente helps fund the initiative through a grant to help small communities like Lemon Grove focus on reducing obesity. Lopez, program manager of HEAL Zone, envisions a future where plot members can learn new ways to use their seasonal produce through cooking demonstrations at the farmers’ market and at monthly Saturday workshops at the garden.
John Hochman, a key member of the group since its inception, is the environmental sustainability officer. “I see this garden as an extension of the world at large and I want to help it grow with the principles by which we should live,” says Hochman, who reclaimed the wood to build the raised beds.
He also found a friend and Vista community activist to donate the salvaged materials for the chain-link fence that lines the garden’s perimeter. “It takes a lot of energy and natural resources to create these materials, so everything that can be reused serves an important purpose,” he notes.
Last summer, the group began meeting every Saturday to clear the land and start building beds and fencing that will eventually be surrounded by dwarf citrus trees.
Garden chair Walt Oliwa notes that the drip irrigation system will help save water and minimize the frustration often experienced by novice gardeners who may not know how often to water.
“Accessibility is a key factor in the garden’s vision and planning,” says Oliwa. Of the garden’s 40 raised beds, six will be raised higher to provide seniors with elevated access to tend to their gardens, and three beds on the garden’s perimeter will be wheelchair accessible.
Neighbors Come Together
Neighbors in passing have contributed significantly to the garden’s progress. In October of last year, while volunteers took measurements to install the drip irrigation system, a pickup truck stopped by.
The community resident was a contractor who offered his time to do the job professionally, while other neighbors have donated tools that they no longer needed. Such small acts are planting seeds of success. Locals attend Saturday builds when they can, and engage through an active social media campaign and website.