In the early light of day, Randy Ziglar walks or rides his bike to his community garden at Santa Monica’s Main Street Gardens, wearing his long-treasured Millet backpack. Fittingly, Randy moves by his own power from home to garden, for he is dedicated to an ecological way of life that compels him to consider how to live in harmony with Nature. He asks, “Is it possible for us to live on this planet in a nondestructive, beneficial way?”
Born in Los Angeles, Randy grew up in towns in the United States and Canada, traveling with family to Idaho, Florida, Louisiana, Texas, Nevada, Arizona, Northern California and Alberta, then settling in Burbank at the age of twelve. Randy reminisces, “Each place brought out different aspects of you, depending upon the environment or the classroom you were in or the friends you made and the people around you.”
Gardening became interesting as “My mother liked to play around in the yard. She liked flowers. I thought gardening was as good a thing as anything to do.” His serious commitment began with Peter Dukich, the late biodynamic organic gardening teacher who taught Randy how to compost and prepare soil and seedbeds for healthy foods and plants. Dukich demonstrated the fine layering of food scraps or “waste,” manures, grasses, leaves and other organic materials to compost. Randy’s willingness to dumpster-dive behind One Life or Ms. Gooch’s in the 1980’s led to transforming other people’s “trash” into healthy topsoil for his community garden. His dedication generated friendships and a team of peers, who with him began a composting program at Ocean View Farms. Today, gardeners or neighbors know that Randy will compost their clippings or kitchen scraps and allow Nature to do its magic into creating humus and vibrant soil. His significant contribution has been to show the value of composting.
The essayist and naturalist Wendell Berry, particularly his The Unsettling of America, has impacted Randy’s understanding of the American footprint on the continent. When he thinks about human existence, Randy considers that it is “too much one of taking, when it needs to be one of giving back.”
Gardening means “to relate closely with Nature, with people and with the mystery of the ‘Wheel of Life.’ Gardening involves an intimate relationship with the possibility of partially moving beyond words and into sensations. It’s a full spectrum natural yoga, yielding human relationship, physical exercise, food, and beauty.”
His relationship with Santa Monica’s Community Gardens began in the early 1970’s because it was “worthwhile.” A joy is becoming “more self-reliant and less part of the market system,” while a challenge is to “use the harvest in a graceful, appropriate, and pleasurable way.” A favorite and routinely practiced cultivation is companion planting carrots and radishes.
Welcoming fellow gardeners and visitors from nearby or across the world, he shares his harvest, including string beans, tomatoes, collards, arugula, garlic chives, purslane, etc. Carried home in his backpack, the vegetables grace his culinary talents as he sautés homegrown collards or greens and garlic; makes ratatouille with garden tomatoes and zucchini or blends fresh basil and garlic into pesto to eat seasonally.
A perfect day in the garden means “to extend yourself but not to the point of collapse,” to walk away with “some satisfaction looking back at the garden at the end of the day and see an improvement, with things in place, and to feel that there’s appropriate care for that small area.”
His best advice for a gardener just starting out or for gardeners starting out each day is to “Do it step by step, one step at a time.” Most important, “Slow down and see what happens. A good gardener, more than being a hard worker, is a good observer. See what the birds and insects are doing in the garden, look for the first seed sprouts, and watch how the plants in the big bed grow. Good observing takes time and patience.”
To Randy, the virtue of community gardening is “to learn from each other and other people’s successes or failures. That’s an important part of time-binding.”
Photo by Andy Liberman