Community gardens throughout Orange County are part of a broader push to create more open space and a sustainable environment for people in areas where such space is dwindling due to development.
Cities like Anaheim, Santa Ana, Huntington Beach and Fullerton have community gardens either run by the city, a church or a community nonprofit group – many are operated in park-poor areas.
Advocates say the gardens help serve as a type of town square for residents while also teaching people how to garden and eat healthier.
Community Garden Impact Across Orange County
Anna Dreifus, a Huntington Beach resident and president of the community garden, said the garden provides a space for residents to grow organic fruits and vegetables for themselves and donate a portion of their harvest to local charities.
“Many of the Huntington Beach community garden members live in apartments or condos with a small patio or balcony,” Dreifus said. “Very few OC residents have a large, open area that gets enough hours of sunlight to grow vegetables. Gardening is a very healthy activity that provides benefits far beyond the food and flowers that are grown.”
The Huntington Beach community garden, near Brookhurst Street and Atlanta Avenue, uses land rented for an annual fee. Dreifus said the garden is a natural social space where gardening beginners and experts work together.
“We have young singles, families with children of all ages and elderly garden members all working together,” Dreifus said. “It is a very peaceful and friendly place.”
Veronica DeVol Roach — the recreation program director in Santa Ana — oversees the Santa Ana Community Garden Program, which consists of five community gardens located at various parks and one community center.
All five gardens host free workshops to the public to promote health and wellness and education about growing healthy food options at home.
“The community gardens are also places for relaxing, connecting with nature and for practicing mindfulness,” DeVol Roach said, who’s worked for the gardens since their 2015 inception. “Every garden is full of life.”
She also emphasized the social aspect of the gardens, where residents naturally strike up conversations and are able to learn from each other. When the crops are ready for harvest, all of the food, herbs and seeds are shared among those who volunteered their time at the garden.
“The gardens provide space for neighbors to learn about each other, build community and feel a sense of accomplishment after successfully working together to complete physically challenging tasks,” DeVol Roach said. “It feels good to see a garden riddled in weeds be completely manicured after a couple of hours working together towards a common goal.”
Garden Grove and Santa Ana residents living near the 102-acre Willowick Golf Course are caught in a battle between two competing interests for the park — residential and retail development against open space proposals.
There are more than 20 community gardens in Orange County, according to the University of California Master Gardeners of Orange County.
Orange County Supervisor Katrina Foley said she’s focusing on creating more community gardens.
“As part of my nutrition grant program, I really was trying to encourage cities in the district to create community gardens,” Foley said. “It’s a really positive experience for those who participate in community gardens with regard to nutrition and health and also social activity, engagement with your neighbors and friends in the community.”
Tustin Could Be Next
Tustin is the latest city to consider adding another community garden.
At their Sept. 20 meeting, the Tustin City Council directed staff to examine creating a community garden. It would be the first community garden in Old Town Tustin.
The proposal is slated to be brought back at a future meeting to discuss a partnership between the city and One Seed, a local gardening advocacy group, to create an outdoor community garden and educational space.
The development comes after One Seed submitted a proposal to the city with potential designs for the garden. One Seed consists of a group of Tustin residents and business owners that have been advocating to create a community garden in Tustin.
Plans for the garden include a fruit tree orchard, a compost area, raised vegetable beds, a greenhouse, a strawberry patch, a children’s garden, a wildflower garden, rain barrels and a picnic area. The proposed garden would be located on approximately 4,500-square feet of city-owned land at 450 El Camino Real.
Sam Robertson, a Santa Ana resident and president of One Seed, emphasized the importance of outdoor community spaces and gardening in Tustin.
“Through the pandemic, it put everything in perspective about what’s most important, and it’s our sense of community and each other,” Robertson said. “We have vegetable gardens in our yard or spaces where we can grow and find comfort in the process of gardening. There’s potential for people to grow food for others and for our community, and the connection was just so obvious to us.”
Robertson also owns Arvida Book Co., a local bookstore in Old Town Tustin.
Maria Manon Winger — the vice president of OneSeed and Tustin resident — said the social space at the bookstore sparked the inspiration for a community garden.
“When Sam created that book store, it was a signal to all of us of the power of a community space where people can gather, where they can talk, where they can exchange ideas and learn from one another,” Manon Winger said.
One Seed is working on creating the garden space in Tustin to serve as an educational hub for people of all ages to learn about plants, gardening and the environment.
“Our plan has always been to have workshops, educational spaces for people of different ages and also just to have a space where there is intergenerational learning that is acceptable to all ages,” Manon Winger said.
The group has already secured a $23,000 grant from Foley’s office to help kickstart the project’s irrigation system, raised beds and outdoor classroom.
One Seed has also gathered some funding from donations and an additional grant from the Tustin Community Foundation.
Foley said that while she was in law school she participated in a local community garden in an experience that had a positive impact on mental health and served as a de-stress center for people.
“The classroom is an added feature that will allow members of the community to come together and learn about nutrition and learn about gardening,” Foley said. “There’s so many different educational programs that can be offered that will lend itself to help all of us become better stewards for our environment and living lives that are contemplating more sustainability.”
Angelina Hicks is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact her at email@example.com or on Twitter @angelinahicks13