Natural Perspectives: New garden, fresh food on the way

It has taken almost a year longer than I thought it would, but it looks like we're finally going to get a new community garden in Huntington Beach.

Word has it that the Huntington Beach City Council is set to approve an agreement with Southern California Edison at the council meeting next Monday. We've been expecting this for months. Representatives from city staff, the City Council and Edison have all informed the Huntington Beach Community Garden president David Baronfeld that it is really going to happen this time.

The operations committee of the garden group has been meeting twice a month to hammer out the procedures of what needs to be done when. At each meeting, the details get finer and finer as they consult various contractors about how to perform the necessary tasks at the site at the end of Atlanta Avenue by the Santa Ana River.

The fundraising committee has also been meeting every other week. I'm a member of both committees, racing the calendar to get the garden up and running on our anticipated opening date of Jan. 1. We have obtained pledges for about $24,000 worth of goods and services and have raised about $7,000 that will be used to clear and till the land, install irrigation, move fences and build borders for each plot. But there is still a gap of about $40,000 between what the project will cost and what the group has raised or had donated. Fortunately, much of that shortfall can be made up in volunteer labor. But not all of it.

Several grant applications and funding requests are pending. We think that potential donors may be waiting for the garden group to get final approval to begin building the infrastructure. If all the hoped-for funds rain down upon our group, we can pull it off. If not, well, there's a fall-back plan. That plan is simply to do as much as we can, continuing to work until the money runs out.

With luck, new funding will come in as we spend our existing funds. We're going to need a lot of luck, so keep your fingers crossed. Even better, uncross them and write a check to the Huntington Beach Community Garden or see if the PayPal button is up and running on the group's website at http://www.huntingtonbeachcommunitygarden.com.

An important feature of the new garden is that the gardeners who will have plots there are being asked to donate 10% of their produce to programs for the needy. We have partnered with the Garden Writers Assn.'s "Plant a Row for the Hungry" program. This will give each plot holder some special row markers that they can use to designate the rows or plants that will produce the food to be donated to the hungry.

The garden group has also partnered with the Harvest Club, which donates food to local charities such as the Hope Office in Huntington Beach, the Michael E. Rodgers Seniors' Center and the Someone Cares Soup Kitchen in Costa Mesa. We'll grow the food, and they'll see that it gets to where it needs to go.

Growing one's own food may sound like a great way to save money, but in fact the cost of seeds, plants, tools, fertilizer and soil amendments adds up. The working poor often do not have the time or financial resources to grow their own food. And they also often lack the financial resources to buy fresh produce. They rely instead on starchy, fatty foods to fill their caloric needs. That isn't the best diet, but it's a cheap one. I'm excited about the potential of our community garden to generate healthy, organic produce for deserving families and for the closest soup kitchen.

Vic and I are fortunate to be able to grow some of our own produce in our yard. But even with strawberries, blackberries, blueberries and 25 fruit trees, most of them dwarf, we grow only a tiny portion of the fruit that we eat. And with three small raised beds for vegetables, plus a row of containers in the driveway and two small areas in the front yard, we grow only a relatively small amount of our vegetables. I'm looking forward to having a decent-sized plot so we can grow a greater percentage of the fruits and vegetables that we eat.

In the year 2000, the average American consumed 279 pounds of fruit and 428 pounds of vegetables for a total of 707 pounds of produce. Since Vic and I are the only two members of our household, we consume 1414 pounds of produce between us each year, assuming that we are typical.

Over the past year, I've actually weighed my daily harvests as they come in. Yes, I know, I'm a nerd. But I'm a lazy nerd. I'm a couple of months behind in entering data into my Excel spreadsheet. My spreadsheet tells me that by the end of August, I had harvested 44 pounds of fruit and 110 pounds of vegetables for a total of 154 pounds of produce in the first eight months of the year. That's before the glut of heavy tomatoes became ripe in September and October. I was harvesting 10 to 15 pounds of produce a week then.

Once I add in my harvests from September and October, plus my anticipated harvests of German butterball potatoes, sweet potatoes, sunchokes and horseradish this month, I will probably have grown over 200 pounds of produce this year. Given the size of my yard and lack of sunshine, that isn't bad. But think how much more I'll be able to grow next year!

Annette Parsons, a member of the community garden committee, calculated that each 15-by-20-foot community garden plot could produce an average of 350 pounds of food. I suppose that depends on whether a gardener grows lightweight lettuce or heavy melons, but you get the idea. If each gardener at the community garden donates 10% of their produce and if we get all 100 of the full-sized plots leased, then we could potentially generate 3,500 pounds of food a year for charity. That would be awesome.

An additional note of good news is that the garden committee has redesigned the layout to accommodate more plots. At press time, there were still a dozen or so plots up for grabs.

VIC LEIPZIG and LOU MURRAY are Huntington Beach residents and environmentalists. They can be reached at LMurrayPhD@gmail.com.

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