Meet the Elysian Valley Community Garden
The Elysian Valley Community Garden
On a street bordering the abandoned BIMBO bakery in “Frogtown” sits the Elysian Valley Community Garden. The summer growing season is in full swing, and the garden is vibrant with the colors of growing vegetables and thriving plants. The garden is home to 30 4×8 foot garden plots, a large covered meeting space with benches and a stage, and an abundance of plants. Along the fence grow berry bushes and lots of trees – apples, peach, guava, pomegranate, and more. The garden is well integrated into the “Frogtown” community, and hosts a stop on the annual Frogtown Art Walk. It is a shelter for bees from the One Strong Hive bee rescue effort. The bees have a place to live and the garden has live-in pollinators. And in an industrial neighborhood without a lot of green space, the garden is an oasis for birds, bees, butterflies, lizards, and the occasional frog. One would think that this garden had been here for years, but it just hosted its grand opening in 2013.
The Elysian Valley Community garden was the brainchild of founder and garden manager, Cyndi Hubach. Cyndi is a Master Gardener and an active volunteer with the Los Angeles Community Garden Council (LACGC). She received her Masters in Urban Sustainability from Antioch University, Los Angeles in 2013, and the garden was part of her fieldwork study. In a 2012 article about the garden, Cyndi said; “A garden puts you back in touch with the natural cycles of the planet: you grow your food, consume your food, the plants and waste go back into the soil and you become a part of that natural cycle. The program encourages us to go out into the community and put what we learn into practice.” (1)
The garden grew as a result of Cyndi’s hard work, some key community members and city officials, and the help of the Los Angeles Community Garden Council. It was an ongoing process over a couple of years to build the garden, add plots and sign up gardeners. LACGC connected Cyndi to her local City Council office (then occupied by current Mayor Eric Garcetti), which helped secure generous grants from both the City of Los Angeles and the Los Angeles Jewish Federation. LACGC was also instrumental in providing partners, such as the LA Conservation Corp which helped clear the land, beautify the huge parking lot and construct many of the garden plots. Cyndi said that they started with nothing — just a vacant lot full of weeds, trash and asphalt. The garden is now a community; the plots are full and they’ve even got a small waiting list. Getting neighbors involved was a challenge at first, but another LACGC partner – bilingual community organizer Edgar Flores — was key to getting the surrounding community involved and active in the garden.
Cyndi is happiest when she comes to the garden and finds people talking, trading gardening tips, sharing their harvest and developing friendships. Many of the gardeners are growing their own food for the first time, and Cyndi says it’s exciting to give people the opportunity to connect with their food and the land in a whole new way.
Elysian Valley Gardener: Gilbert Medina
Elysian Valley resident and retiree Gilbert Medina is the “wise sage” of the Elysian Valley Community Garden. As a young boy in Mexico, he was introduced to gardening work in the fields with his father. He lost his connection to it for 30 long years when he moved to the United States and started working and began his family. But when he retired 10 years ago, he took it up again, growing tomatoes and chilies in his backyard. And when the Elysian Valley Community Garden opened, he was one of the first to sign up. The garden is his sanctuary; no matter what is troubling him at home, he says, he can always come to the garden to lose himself among the plants.
Gilbert gardens alongside his brother-in-law Pedro, and together they have enjoyed success growing a variety of produce: tomatoes, tomatillos, several varieties of chilies, corn, green beans, squash, zucchini, lettuce and cabbage. Their favorite dish is a simple salsa made with the chilies and tomatoes. Some of the chilies are so hot, he says, it only takes a little bit to heat up a large container of salsa.
Gilbert tends to his plants almost every day, and what he can’t fit in his own plot he plants along the fences and in any unclaimed area for the community to enjoy. His green beans and zucchinis have provided meals for countless gardeners whose season might not be going as well as his always seems to be. He also cares for the fruit trees and the butterfly bushes, but he is relentless in his battle against the Bermuda grass – a full-time job in itself! He is always available with a helpful tip to the newbies in the garden. His advice is simple but not always easy: give the plants the right amount of water, enough space to grow and keep the weeds at bay. Cyndi says that “Gilbert is the magic” – he is a big reason that the garden is such as success.
Sources: 1. “Interview: Cyndi Hubach On Helping Community Gardens Take Root”, The Women’s Eye, September 16, 2012 http://www.thewomenseye.com/2012/09/16/interview-cyndi-hubach-elysian-valley-fields-community-garden/