At Stanford Avalon, community gardening gets serious
They don’t garden so much as farm here, just like in the Bajío of Mexico. The 180 plots are large, roughly 30 by 45 feet, one per family, and the competition can be an intense.
Since the garden opened five years ago near Watts, in a neighborhood that The Times classifies as Green Meadows, one family was booted out for being bad gardeners and letting their space go to weeds.
"There is just too much peer pressure," Dake says.
The garden starts at 109th Street in the southern section of L.A. and runs south under Department of Water and Power lines for 11 blocks, divided by Imperial Highway, the 105 Freeway and a working freight train line. It was created after the bulldozing of the South Central Community Garden (also known as the South Central Farm) as a way to placate growers displaced there, at East 41st Street.
At the time, about 300 families wanted to garden here, but to accommodate everyone, plots would have been reduced to unacceptably small dimensions. So the oldest gardeners were given first choice, and the reamining plots were decided by raffle.
About 100 families went onto a waiting list, and some remain there still, coming to meetings and hoping for a space to open up. There are no term limits.
“Maybe this garden is for life. Maybe it never changes," he says. "I want it to continue. At South Central we had too many problems.”
Elements of a working farm are everywhere. Every plot is fenced to keep out children and dogs. Some plot holders have erected open-air huts in which to get out of the sun, store tools or prepare a quick meal on a hot plate.
Many of the plots have been trenched, frequently to plant a single crop, and are watered by flood irrigation. Nopal cactus is in more than 50 of the plots, often planted in long rows along the edges, interspersed with gopher spurge to drive away the pests. Equally popular is romerito, also called sea blite, a stringy green that looks like a non-woody rosemary but tastes like tart spinach. It’s popular during Christmas and Lent, used in shrimp mole and romeritos (shrimp patties).
Only part of the garden is organic, Gamboa says. According to a survey, half of the gardeners use chemical fertilizers (and seemingly nobody bothers to read the directions).
Large piles of city compost and horse manure are available, but Dake says it’s not his place to tell the gardeners what to do.
“I am not going to tell Juan Gamboa that he’s silly for not composting," Dake says. "I am a licensed landscape architect, and I don’t know half of what these guys know.”
-- Jeff Spurrier
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Photo credit: Ann Summa