On the market: Putting down roots near community gardens
With the first day of spring looming next Saturday, some homeowners are starting to plan vegetable gardens. But community gardeners like Van Nuys resident David Ringger, 70, board president of the 22-acre Van Nuys Airport Garden Club, have already sprung into action.
“We are in the winter season, so we are growing greens, cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, peas and onions. In the summer, we grow squash, sweet corn, tomatoes and zucchini,” says Ringger, who has maintained several plots at the Van Nuys community garden for about 14 years.
Ringger, a retired floor-covering executive, is no green-thumbed rebel. According to the National Gardening Assn., 37% of U.S. households planned to grow their own fruit, vegetables, berries and herbs in 2009, up from 31% in 2008.
NGA says a desire for better-tasting food and to save money are the main reasons families grow their own food. However, L.A. Community Garden Council board secretary Glen Dake believes most community gardeners appreciate the value of a shared activity that provides a little exercise and some fresh air.
“Most people do this for enrichment and pride. It is fun and interesting,” says Dake, 44, a Silver Lake resident and landscape architect.
L.A. County is home to approximately 70 community garden clubs. Many of the gardens were established during L.A. Mayor Tom Bradley's five-term administration (1973-93) as resources for low-income households and seniors.
Hollywood’s Wattles Farm and Neighborhood Gardens has been helping clodhoppers turn out fresh produce since 1978. Others, such as the Raymond Avenue Neighborhood Garden in West Adams, sprouted up recently.
West Adams resident and artist Julie Burleigh, 49, founded the Raymond garden in 2008. She also runs My Home Harvest, which helps families establish and maintain organic vegetable gardens.
“I wanted to be more involved in the community and grow food, and there was an empty lot across the street. We use the property with permission from the owner,” Burleigh says.
Burleigh’s community garden has approximately 37 plots, communal fruit trees, a beehive and a compost pile. Burleigh spends a couple of days a week tending her two plots and recently secured a $3,600 beautification grant from the City of L.A. for a planned outdoor community room with benches, hedges and an arbor.
Well-tilled or newly sown, each garden club has its own rules. Some gardens are organic. Expenses (water, insurance, portable toilets, for instance) are covered by plot fees. And fees and plot sizes vary.
Raymond Avenue plots are 10 feet by 5 feet and cost $3 a month. Van Nuys Airport Garden Club plots run 10 feet by 30 feet and cost $30 a year for water and maintenance and $4 a family for insurance. Plots at the Vermont Square garden in South Los Angeles run 4 feet by 12 feet and cost $2 a month (although that fee is rumored to be increasing to $3). Stanford/Avalon Farm in Watts charges $13 a month and plots run 30 feet by 45 feet. And Arleta Community Garden charges about $15 a year for a 15-foot-by-35-foot plot.
Some gardens are privately owned. Others are owned by the city or its departments.
Like many of L.A.’s community gardens, the Van Nuys garden limits the number of plots a gardener can tend and has a waiting list for plots.
“We used to have waiting lists during tomato time, except for the most popular farms that always had a wait,” Dake explains. “But now most of the gardens have a waiting list. It could be the economic collapse, but I think it’s all Michelle Obama’s fault,” he joked, noting the first lady’s praise of community vegetable gardens in 2009 and push for healthful food.
Ringger says the community garden experience is worth the wait.
“Don’t be afraid to get on a wait list because spots open up. The old-timers die off or just can’t do it anymore. And the young people get eager and then lose interest,” he says.
For North Hills resident Elsa Wyskocil, 43, the Van Nuys community garden is a place to relax. “You work in the garden and watch things grow. And the produce is much fresher than from the store,” says Wyskocil, who has maintained several plots with her husband, Scott, 52, since 1995. The Wyskocils work in the entertainment industry and spend about 12 days a month tending eight plots.
“Last year, we planted garlic. We harvested in June and still have 5 or 10 pounds left. We try to freeze and can what we harvest and give away as much as possible. But we are not allowed to sell produce, because we don’t have an agricultural license,” she says.
NGA says the average well-maintained food garden (10 feet by 60 feet) requires a $70 investment per season and can yield an estimated ½ pound of produce per square foot. Tomatoes are the most popular vegetables followed by cucumbers, sweet peppers, beans, carrots, summer squash, onions, hot peppers, lettuce and peas.
Burleigh believes her community garden is about more than just fresh produce.
“It has been a great adventure. I feel really connected to the people in my community and am enjoying getting to know the people in my neighborhood. We are enjoying taking care of the land,” she says. “And little by little we are making the neighborhood a better place.”
To locate a community garden in your area, visit the Los Angeles Community Garden Council, and select “find a garden.”
Here are some homes for sale close to L.A. community gardens.1644 Courtney Ave.
Close to Wattles Farm (1714 Curson Ave.), this single-family bungalow was built in 1920. Listed at $999,000 on Redfin, the two-bedroom, two-bathroom Sunset Square home has 1,588 feet and hardwood floors.13424 Reliance St., Arleta
Close to Arleta Community Garden (8800 Canterbury Ave.), this single-family home was built in 1950 with three bedrooms and 1½ bathrooms in 1,108 square feet. Listed at $249,950 on Realtor.com, the home features central heating and lots of built-ins.8771 Roslyndale Ave., Arleta
Also near Arleta Community Garden, this single-family home was built in 1953 with three bedrooms and two bathrooms in 2,238 square feet and is listed at $300,000 on Realtor.com.
2311 Schader Drive, Unit 101, Santa Monica
Close to the Santa Monica Community Garden (Park Drive between Santa Monica Boulevard and Broadway), this condominium was built in 1993 with two bedrooms and 2½ bathrooms in 1,383 square feet and is listed at $575,000 on Realtor.com.
3536 S. Centinela Ave., Unit 8
Close to the Ocean View Farms site (3300 Centinela Ave.) overlooking Santa Monica Bay, this condominium was built in 1981 with three bedrooms and 2½ bathrooms in 1,577 square feet and is listed at $510,000 on Redfin.3460 S. Centinela Ave., Unit 202
Also near the Ocean View Farms site, this condominium was built in 1990 with two bedrooms and 2½ bathrooms in 1,470 square feet and is listed at $449,000 on Realtor.com.
1432 Holbrook St., Eagle Rock
Close to Eagle Rockdale Community Garden & Art Park (Figueroa Boulevard and Rockdale Avenue), this property features three bedrooms and one bathroom in 1,058 square feet and is listed at $449,000 on Realtor.com. Listing agent Tracy King of Coldwell Banker in Pasadena says the single-family home, built in 1925, is an artist’s retreat with a great garden space.
-- Michelle Hofmann
Top photo: Ocean View Farms in Mar Vista. Credits, from top: Los Angeles Times, Redfin.com, Realtor.com, Zillow.com, Coldwell Banker