Cycling over 50 miles through the LA metropolis round the boardwalk we saw little vegetation – just sand, sea and concrete. It was therefore extra special to stop off at the urban oasis of Wrigley Garden, Long Beach. The garden is a third of an acre set in an area of greater LA known for gang activity and drug trafficking. Sasha, the inspirational coordinator, supervises plots that are farmed by local residents – helping them to learn to grow organically. She says that the project has actually been more of a social experiment than an agricultural one, trying to bring together a diverse community where people often do not know their neighbours.
You can see the garden has made a difference, many of the small plots are well tended and abundant. Sasha also says that there has been cultural integration in the Garden. However, one of the main problems has been getting people to actually eat the wonderful produce they grow. In an area that is populated by Mexican and Cambodian people it has been hard to encourage the gardeners to use the vegetables in their cooking as they are not familiar with them. So, in the plots there are things going to seed and giant beets that have been left to grow so huge they are now inedible.
Sasha’s hurdles highlight an interesting conundrum that I hadn’t really thought about before: bridging the gap between growing vegetables and knowing how to cook and eat them. It’s a tricky situation involving sensitive cultural and economic issues. Sasha has her work cut out for her and is another example of what vision and enthusiasm can achieve with few resources – she is a volunteer. The city is helping her out, but things are moving slowly and she needs more help on the education side to stop all those beets rotting in the ground.