Wrigley Village Community Garden a convergence of growing and commerce


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Community Gardens Dispatch No. 27: Wrigley Village, Long Beach

The 2400 block of Pacific Avenue in Long Beach is not the kind of place you expect to find a community garden. It’s a block lined with businesses servicing the working class neighborhood, in sight of the towers of downtown Long Beach but low-rise, low income and low-rent in tone.


In the middle of the block, the Wrigley Village Community Garden sits on a compact 150’x50’ lot that for years had been a hangout for transients and drug transactions. When the space was prepared for the garden by the city’s Neighborhood Leadership Program 18 months ago, the detritus removed included abandoned sofas and lots of used hypodermic needles.

Adriana Martinez, a master gardener who lives nearby and helped in the garden’s birth, says that the juxtaposition of a community garden in a business corridor was part of the appeal. “It’s on a major thoroughfare, between a barber shop and a silkscreen printer. It’s so different.”

(An earlier version of this post incorrectly identified the person who started Long Beach Organics as Charlie Cross. The correct name is Charlie Moore.)

Wrigley Village differs in other ways. All the 24 100-square-foot plots are either low framed or raised beds, but there any uniformity ends. The paths between plots twist and wind and the overall sensibility is appealingly idiosyncratic, verging on backyard funky. Some of the beds are framed in painted shelving recycled after the closing of Acres of Books, the landmark Long Beach bookstore. One plot is primarily cactus while another is entirely California natives, neither sporting the edibles commonly seen in community gardens.(That’s Patrick Harris, who grows chard and peppers, pictured at the top of this post.)

The succulents scattered throughout come from local Scott Bunnell, a legendary guerilla gardener who for more than 20 years has been beautifying Long Beach dead zones, especially inside median strips and along rail tracks. The plantings here, however, are authorized.

As in other gardens, the rule here is “use it or lose it,” says Joe Corso, part of non-profit Long Beach Organics, which oversees operations here and at six other Long Beach gardens. Other than that, the only other restriction is to keep it organic.
“People learn about organic gardening by osmosis, seeing it happen, and not as a lecture,” he says. This message is central to LBO, started in 1994 by Charlie Moore (pictured above), a Long Beach native and avid sailor and gardener. (He is the man responsible for highlighting the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a floating soup of plastic and trash that swirls in the North Pacific Ocean, some of it emanating from the Los Angeles River, about a mile away.)


To save plot space there is a communal herb garden and all know that the non-gardening neighbors occasionally harvest from the nopal in the back corner next to the alley behind. In some ways this is a garden that truly belongs to the surrounding community, not just the gardeners. The barber at Peliqueria Long Beach, next door, tosses over an electrical cord when they want to run their chipper and in return he gets a sample of whatever is in season.

“He’s our biggest fan,” says Corso. “Before, it was trouble.”

Founding gardeners Francine and Sammy Portillo live a few streets away and have sponsored a plot for the kids in the multi-unit apartment building across the alley from their house. They are all inner-city at-risk kids with no place to play other than the alley, says Sammy Portillo.

“Part of the deal was that anything that they grew they had to try. They don’t have to like it -- just try it. And a lot of stuff they thought they wouldn’t like now they actually fight over -- like the snap peas. They can grow anything they want but they have to figure out what we can and cannot plant. We don’t do it for them. It’s not just the process of the garden but the process of learning and how processes work. And letting them feel empowered by doing it themselves. It’s their garden.”

-- Jeff Spurrier

Photo credits: Ann Summa

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