Community garden waiting lists: in Culver City, the problem and one solution


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Community Gardens Dispatch No. 36: Culver City

Just about every community garden has a waiting list. Thirty names are on the list here, and though that may not sound like many, the Culver City Community Garden has only 16 plots. Only four have changed hands in the last three years, said Darren Uhl, the city employee who handles the garden for the Parks, Recreation and Community Services department.


Cathi Vargas, left, an environmental coordinator for the city, had been on the list for three years. She had even forgotten that she had applied when a letter came in the mail saying that space had opened up. She arrived with little garden know-how. She scattered seeds willy-nilly and had no layout. She got lots of tomatoes her first year but had no clue why or how.

Then she met Sylvia Alvarado, a more seasoned gardener, and the two joined forces. Vargas offered to share her space until Alvarado’s name came up on the Culver City list.

“I’m number 12,” Alvarado said. “It could be forever.”

The two women gave their plot some new structure. Under Alvarado’s direction this spring, they planted the zucchini in rows, they trellised burgundy and yellow string beans on chicken wire and put in five varieties of cucumber. The soil is clay, and so they added gypsum along with compost and manure, learning the hard way that fresh manure burns plants and brings weeds.

Alvarado said that a few years ago she didn’t know the difference between perennials and annuals. But then, as a parent volunteer, she built a garden at El Rincon Elementary School. “I was amazed when something actually grew and I could eat it,” she said.

Sharing the plot with Vargas is working out for now, but Alvarado says it’s hard to be left on the waiting list when some plots look as though they have been abandoned.

She understands that sometimes a member might not feel like gardening, ‘but when it goes on for years and it’s just sitting there, it’s frustrating,’ she said. ‘It’s a privilege to be able to garden in a community garden.” The setting is something of a throwback: The garden is in Veteran’s Memorial Park, sandwiched between two meeting halls -- one for veterans and the other for the Boy Scouts, who share the space with the Mineral and Rock Club.

Most of the plots, each about 160 square feet each, are maintained and planted for summer. (That’s a squash plant in flower, right.) But about a quarter of the plots do look poorly maintained, if not outright abandoned.

Fees are only $40 a year, and members do not have to attend meetings or work days, as at many other community gardens. Unless there’s a complaint, gardeners are automatically renewed and are left to police themselves. Some have been here for more than 15 years.

Uhl said the city has no plans to develop a second community garden, despite the demand. “There’s no funding for any new projects, especially for something that isn’t necessary for the community,’ he said. ‘In times of economic crisis we have to focus on the basics.”


At El Sereno, making peace with neighbors

At People’s Garden, growing crops for a food desert

At Proyecto Pastoral, the question of corporate sponsorship

In Encino, community garden thieves

-- Jeff Spurrier

Who needs store-bought tomato cages? Gardeners here recycle wooden stakes as a different kind of plant support.

A makeshift cage for robust tomato plants.

Sunflowers on Cathi Vargas’ plot.

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