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BUENA PARK : Community Garden Has Varied Yield

At first, the Buena Park Community Garden Center seems an unlikely place to produce a bountiful harvest. Graffiti-scarred walls border the site on one side, and high-tension power lines tower overhead.

But in their midst, Joan Carr’s berry vines are blooming, Joe Maciel’s corn is ripening, and John Sinn’s cabbage patch has produced more cabbages than he knows what to do with.

“My wife thinks I’m nuts,” said Sinn. “She won’t let me in the house with another cabbage.”

Sinn is one of 165 Buena Park residents who tend plots of land assigned them at a 24-acre strip of land near the corner of Thelma and Knott avenues. No two gardens are alike, and the city’s ethnic diversity is reflected in the variety of crops grown there.

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Sinn, who grew up on a farm in Pennsylvania, also grows rutabagas because he likes the taste and because they remind him of home.

“We had a big root cellar underneath the house where we stored them up for the winter. We ate them just like potatoes,” he said. “It’s fun to be out here digging in the ground. This is where I spend most of my Saturdays.”

Next to where the Ramirez family is growing corn for their homemade tortillas, Bert Gagucas and his family are growing chayote and bitter melon native to the Philippines.

“I lived on a farm there,” said Gagucas. “The melons sell in specialty stores here, but they’re $3.95 a pound, so I’d rather grow my own. They taste better.”

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But the center’s most exotic garden belongs to newcomers Vithalbai and Kantaben Patel, who recently planted more than 32 kinds of vegetables from seeds imported from their native India. Before moving to Orange County in 1965, the couple grew coffee and roses on a 400-acre farm in Kenya.

“I love to work with the earth. And we eat most of our meals at home, staying very close to traditional Indian customs,” said Vithalbai Patel.

“I enjoy being outside, but this provides more than that for me,” he said. “It is a way to stay in touch with my culture.”

The center, which is sponsored by the Buena Park Recreation Department, is the only one of its kind in Orange County, according to coordinator Joe Maciel.

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There is a shortage of available plots, he said, “but so many people come and go these days, the waiting list is never too long.” Plots are available only to Buena Park residents, who are charged a $10 registration fee and must provide their own tools.

“It’s more than just a hobby,” said Maciel, who has tended a plot at the center since it opened 14 years ago. “It’s a great way to meet your neighbors. We share our successes and losses all the same.”


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