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New weekly feature: SoCal's community gardens

September 29, 2010 |  8:00 am


More than 70 community gardens dot Los Angeles County alone, some dating back more than 30 years. Even the L.A. Community Garden Council isn’t sure about the total because some gardens are growing under the radar.

In the months to come, I’ll be blogging here on Southern California’s community gardens -- the people, the plantings, the gardening conundrums, the expert solutions. Bookmark L.A. at Home and look for my new posts every Wednesday as I bounce from community to community, meeting gardeners such as Milli Macen-Moore at the Milagro Allegro community garden in the northeast L.A. neighborhood of Highland Park.

Milagro-Allegro Like many newly minted graduates of L.A. County's Master Gardener program, Macen-Moore keeps returning to her community garden to hold classes, provide advice and, sometimes, like the microbes in the soil, create the medium that builds community roots. She arrived at Milagro Allegro nine months after the garden started in spring 2009, about the same time she was finishing the Master Gardener class.

A few years earlier, Macen-Moore had been an unhappy entertainment law secretary, weighing more than 200 pounds and facing a recent diagnosis of diabetes.

She quit her job, cashed out her 401(k) and began eating lots of fruit and vegetables. She grew as many as she could in her Glassell Park backyard. In a search for nematodes on YouTube, she stumbled across the Master Gardener program.

“I looked up their mission statement and knew that’s who I want to be, that’s what I want to do, that’s what I want to be teaching,” she says. “And two years later, here I am. I saw all the people here and how enthusiastic they were about growing food in the center of the city. I thought this can be my home, a place I can teach.”

She smiles. Behind her, a pair of giant corn stalks, easily 14 feet high, sway in the wind. They’re from El Salvador, she says, and the woman who grew them was giving away seeds at the Swap.

She is talking about the Garden Swap, a monthly public get-together she started at Milagro Allegro. Members of the community (not just gardeners) gather to swap or give away seeds, pots, vegetables, worm castings, worm tea, seedlings, tools, magazines, books, whatever. She also started monthly Organic Sundays (horticultural classes in English and Spanish) and Fresh From the Garden (nutrition workshops), and she oversaw the plots of L.A. Sprouts (a 12-week program focused on nutrition and childhood obesity). The farmers for that last program were kids from nearby Loreto Street Elementary, and by the end of the class they could identify 65% of the vegetables in the garden. In October, Macen-Moore will oversee Grow L.A. Victory Garden classes, another offshoot of the UC Cooperative Extension, which runs the Master Gardener program.

Milagro Allegro is the only Grow LA Victory Garden program offering the program in Spanish.  You can register by calling Macen-Moore at (800) 863-5476 or e-mailing milli@modern-sustainability.com.

Unlike some master gardeners, Macen-Moore doesn’t have a plot in the garden where she is in residence. Real estate here -- like at most community gardens in the city -- is waiting-list only.

-- Jeff Spurrier

Next Wednesday: A walk through Milagro Allegro, something of a showpiece among urban gardens.

Photo, top: Milli Macen-Moore. Credit: Jeff Spurrier

Photo, bottom: Milago Allegro community garden. Credit: Nicole Gatto


What I learned in the Master Gardener program