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The cost of growing fresh food? Check the water bill

March 30, 2011 |  9:03 am

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Community Gardens Dispatch No. 25: Stanford Avalon, Los Angeles

At the monthly meeting of the Stanford Avalon Community Garden, water use is at the top of the list for President Luis Gamboa. Below, in his white shirt and hat, he addresses the crowd of about 50 people, saying everyone must pay their monthly $15 fee regularly. If they don’t pay on time, there will be a fine, he warns.

Stanford-Avalon2-meeting “It’s very sad for us to do this, but if nobody wants to follow the rules, then nothing will exist,” he says. Al Renner, executive director of the L.A. Community Garden Council, watches from the sidelines, nodding at the message. The council is responsible for handling the accounts of Stanford Avalon along with 18 other community gardens. The typical water bills at Stanford Avalon have been about $1,000. Then a $6,000 bill appeared, bringing home the reality of just how much water was costing the group.

That bill turned out to be erroneous -- the result of incorrect meter readings in previous months -- but even so, Renner says, it's a challenge not only to pay the bills but also educate gardeners about irrigation strategies.

“We have a few who are doing drip irrigation like they should," he says. "Sometimes it sinks in and sometimes it doesn’t.”

2-Stanford-Avalon2-flooded In Stanford Avalon’s coarse soil, however, water always sinks in. Most of the gardeners flood their trenched rows regularly, partly because the water pressure is low. A few months ago the members voted to raise their fees by $2 to cover the water use. The increase resulted in a decline in usage.

Water is not the only item on the meeting agenda. The garden is about to extend south to 120th Street, bringing 30 more plots into the fold and shrinking the waiting list. With the planned expansion on Earth Day, neighborhood relations have gotten tense. A few weeks ago when some of the gardeners checked out the new land, a neighbor suspicious of the unfamiliar people called police.

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Juan Moreno says Stanford Avalon is important to the community, and not just as a source for healthful food.

“I work nights, so during the days I come over here and try and stay off the streets," he says. "It helps me relax and keeps you busy. Instead of going out and doing bad things, you come here and have a good time.” (Marcelina Tomas, above left, harvesting radish greens, center; above right, Stephanie Morales, 8, enjoys a tamale with brother Jerry, 6.)

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There are some, such as Don Eddie Lubiano, 86, above, who come to the garden at dawn and stay until midafternoon, every day of the week. He oversees the community rose garden next to a school and gives flowers to the preschoolers. Sometimes he sells his cilantro when he has too much. At most community gardens, sale of produce is strictly forbidden, but Stanford Avalon is unusual in that it has no official restrictions against selling off-site. Renner is fine with that.

“It’s going into the food chain,” he says. “We’re just trying to encourage them to do it in the right way.”

-- Jeff Spurrier

Dispatches from community gardens are posted here every Wednesday.

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Juan Gamboa, Luis Gamboa's brother, arrives in the early morning as neighbors pass by on their way to drop off kids at school.

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The Stanford Avalon plots, set under power lines.

Photos: Ann Summa

Updated and corrected: This post was updated to add a photo of Luis Gamboa and correct the caption of the photo of Juan Gamboa.

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