At Long Beach Community Garden, the spirit of sharing is growing
Southern California's community gardens differ in size, location and demographic, but you'll find one recurring trait at them all: generosity. Gardeners love to share, and in the community gardens I've visited, that best of human qualities is regularly evident -- be it an exchange of hard-to-coax seedlings to just-harvested heirlooms.
At Long Beach Community Garden, known for its stunningly high yields, all gardeners dedicate 10% of their harvest to one of five local charitable organizations. (Other community gardens also donate to food banks, but at Long Beach the giving seems to be on an entirely different level.) The biggest recipient is the Long Beach Rescue Mission, which provides three meals a day to 250 people.
“They’ll take everything we can give them,” says Tracy Frate, head of the garden's food bank committee. “Winter is our best season. We have 300 plots and so we get 300 different versions of things. We just went through a season when we got every type of cabbage known to man. We used it all.”
Within reason. That doesn’t mean baseball bat-sized zucchini or broccoli that has gone to flower, she says. “Once you let a zucchini get past 10 inches, it's bitter and no good even for a soup.”
Her rule of thumb: If you would feed it to your family, then it can go on the food bank table. Otherwise, it’s compost. The same sensibility applies to leafy greens that have been wilting in the heat all day, harvested after the volunteer drivers have made their daily delivery.
Frate lives in downtown Long Beach, and she regularly fills her car trunk with produce to drop off at the Mission on her way home. When the food manager said he would love to have more herbs, the next trip included a milk crate full of freshly cut rosemary and two shopping bags stuffed full of sage.
“They’re pickier and maybe don’t know how to cook an artichoke or kale," Frate says. "They like green beans, carrots, tomatoes.”
Frate oversees three plots dedicated to growing food donations. One plot is filled with nothing but tomatoes and basil. On communal work days, gardeners chip in with weeding, other maintenance and harvesting.
An orchard is planted with apples, citrus, stone fruit and more -- “anything that can be grown in Southern California,” she says. That harvest goes toward the food bank as well.
“Dropping the food off, you see the people who probably are going to be eating it," she says. "These are all people we live around -- the needy, people not able to support themselves. It's giving back to the community and also to the city, because they have given us this land to grow for our own families.”
-- Jeff Spurrier
Photo credits: Ann Summa
Mike Battistone, taking a break from mulching and weeding in the orchard.