Natural Perspectives: Community finally welcomes gardeners

After two years of seemingly endless planning meetings, the Huntington Beach Community Garden is finally going into the ground.

The new organic gardens will be at the end of Atlanta Avenue near Brookhurst Street, under the Southern California Edison power lines.

The ground has been disked and graded, water lines and spigots are installed, and the plots are all laid out. The first gardeners are beginning to work on their gardens. All of the plots will be open and ready for planting soon. A ribbon-cutting ceremony for the garden is planned for March 26, and will be attended by major donors, city officials and members of the community garden.

The history of getting a community garden going after the one closed at Golden West College goes back several years. A small group of people tried to get a community garden going about four years ago, but they just didn't have a critical mass of interested people.

It took Joanne Rasmussen and Annette Parsons to round up enough people to finally push this thing through. They carried a petition to get people to express an interest in having a community garden, and took their case to the city. A group began meeting with the city.

City staffers Jim Engle and Dave Dominguez presented several potential parcels to the group for their consideration. Councilman Devin Dwyer pushed hard to make it happen.

The garden group was looking for a place with water, decent soil, accessibility and a quiet atmosphere. And they wanted a long-term lease. They finally settled on some property owned by Edison. Janelle Froisland and Richard Fujikawa of Edison worked hard with the city to negotiate terms of the lease. The city entered into a memorandum of understanding with the garden group and leased the property from the utility.

Meanwhile, the group formed a board of directors, elected officers, developed bylaws and obtained nonprofit status. The group developed an education program and a website, http://www.huntingtonbeachcommunitygarden.com.

Through the University of California Cooperative Extension Master Gardeners of Orange County, the group has presented three educational programs that were attended by gardeners from Costa Mesa and Seal Beach as well as our own members. The group has used Facebook to network and attract new members. Word spread, and before we even set foot on the property, all the plots were leased. There is now a waiting list.

The community rallied around the cause. Rainbow Disposal donated Dumpsters for cleanup and donated funds to build composting bins. The Orange County Water District donated a backflow valve, which was needed before we could put in irrigation. Pat Sullivan of Kemp Construction donated materials for installing the irrigation system as well as lumber.

The group finally received permission to get onto the property in January, but Edison had work to do on the property before we could really begin. The group finally got permission to do on-the-ground work in February. They immediately formed work parties and cleared much of the weeds. A rented tractor helped them finish the job.

The labor needed to put in the garden infrastructure was extensive. Fortunately, the Boeing Employees Community Fund came through with a small grant to hire the Orange County Conservation Corps. But the funds were only sufficient for two days of work. Fortunately, the corps was able to provide matching funds to not only keep the corps crew through the end of the week, but to provide double the number of corps members that the Boeing grant funded.

Tony Yturralde provided equipment and labor to dig the trenches prior to laying the irrigation lines. Working side-by-side with garden volunteers, the corps crew came in to finish filling and tamping the irrigation trenches. But what the group had hoped the corps would be able to do was build the wooden borders that delineate each garden bed. Unfortunately, the trenching for irrigation occupied all the time that had been allotted.

Again fortune smiled on the group. An anonymous donor came through with funding for the corps, and again the corps matched generously. The next week the crew began building the wooden borders that will delineate each plot. The corps crew of 11 plus construction supervisor Simeon Jasso will now stay at the garden until the project is finished. Remaining tasks include painting the shipping container that was donated for tool storage, building a shade structure with benches so gardeners can get out of the sun to rest, and installing drought-tolerant landscaping that will include California native plants.

Phase 1 of the garden construction is almost complete. The ground is cleared and prepped, irrigation lines are in, and by the end of this week, all of the wooden bed borders will be finished.

The garden group now is moving into Phase 2, which will include building benches, a waterproof bulletin board, and two three-bin composting systems. Although a few tools and even a Roto-tiller have been donated, the group still needs garden tools and hoses.

Some of the people in the garden group who have worked hard to make this garden a reality include Rasmussen, Parsons, John Amato, David Baronfeld, William Clow, Jim Jauman, Pam Chapman, Carol Benton, Mary Lou Ledgerwood, Mike Sullivan, Patty and Bob Swaaley, Kent Hayden, and a host of others. Good job, folks. You can be proud of your accomplishments.

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

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