Ocean View Farms: The hottest plots in town?
Community gardens dispatch No. 8: Ocean View Farms, West L.A.
The first thing you notice at Ocean View Farms is the view: a spectacular sweep of Santa Monica Bay from a bluff overlooking Santa Monica Airport. It's so beautiful it hurts (that it's not yours).
The second thing you notice are the mailboxes, row upon row, marching in grid formation down the slope. Five hundred 15-by-15-foot plots are on nearly 6 acres, and the mailboxes -- required -- are how the members get communications from the garden's board of directors.
Ocean View is the second-largest community garden in L.A. -- only Van Nuys is bigger -- and operates like a small city. A mature orchard of citrus, macadamia and avocado lies on the fringe. A satellite garden sits on the north side of the entrance, and a parking lot is shared with a little league diamond. The plots themselves are as diverse as L.A.: riotous English rose gardens next to mixed seasonal edibles next to plots with nothing but lettuce or soybeans.
Not allowed: trees, sugar cane, shading. No overhead watering of adjacent plots. No perimeter walls of lattice or plywood. No smoking, no alcohol, no nude gardening. Everyone is required to grow year-round and contribute 12 hours a year per plot to communal tasks such as turning or shredding the compost, cleaning the walkways, maintaining the extensive network of plumbing, driving the tractor, helping seniors maintain their plot walls and locking gates at twilight. If a waterline breaks, emergency gardener/plumbers are on call.
The detailed organization of Ocean View Farms is what makes the garden exceptionally productive and popular. More than 500 people are on the waiting list, even though it can take three years before a plot opens up. Once gardeners get in, they stick around.
"I like Ocean View because it's very diverse," says Korea-born Suky Lee, a Beverly Hills real estate agent in real life, pictured above holding a ginseng-like root. "We have a lot of different ethnic groups and everybody brings their own thing to the garden."
To illustrate the point, she displays a "cousin of ginseng" root that she's getting ready to transplant into a new plot, further up the slope and away from the traffic on Centinela Avenue. She also has some ginger root to share with Jean Tsunemoto, below right, and her husband, Tak.
The Tsunemotos have been here since 1995 and now buy almost no produce in stores. She just came off the 7 a.m. manure shredding crew and is tending to her lettuce and carrots. The latter she avoids thinning by initially sowing the seed gently and then swirling her hand through the dirt, spreading them out further before adding a final, very thin layer of topsoil.
Her neighbor, Maurice Haber, originally from Greece, is transplanting some beet seedlings into one of Jean Tsunemoto's beds for her. Behind him a thick stand of asparagus in his plot sways in the breeze. The asparagus is barely a year old and has already produced more than he can eat sometimes -- a feat that normally takes three years. His secret?
"I make manure tea with a bucket of half manure, half water," he says. "Let it sit overnight. It stinks but after you water with it, it's like 'Whoa!' I started with two asparagus but I should have had one. This soil is so strong."
The reason the soil is so strong is an industrial-sized composting facility first started more than a decade ago by Warren Miyashiro, one of L.A.'s few master composters.
Coming next week: Where compost is king.
-- Jeff Spurrier
Above: Maurice Haber's plot of asparagus, cabbage and other winter greens.
Above: Haber's asparagus, which thrives thanks to the compost.
Photo credits: Ann Summa
CORRECTED: An earlier version of the post misspelled Warren Miyashiro's name as Mirashiro.