What is your official title?

Community Gardens Program Specialist

 

What are your job responsibilities?

My main task is to manage the 4 Community Gardens that are a part of the Community Recreation Department. Three of these have individual garden plots utilized by Santa Monica Residents. My role in these is to ensure that current gardeners are following rules and regulations as agreed upon by City Staff and Garden Representatives. I work with Site Representatives to address individual site needs and ensure that our garden program interacts with the public. The 4th garden, Ishihara Garden, is an Educational Garden, grown together with Community Volunteers to provide food directly into the community, including residents as well as donations to Food Banks and Shelters. We will be hosting workshops and school tours, and utilize this site as an Urban Ag Training Facility. Ishihara also boasts 18 Citrus Trees, making it the City’s first Urban Orchard.

 

When were you first exposed to gardening?

Growing up in Monon, Indiana exposed us to a great deal of agriculture. My paternal grandmother had a beautiful garden, and it was there that we ate her strawberries, picked beans and caught grasshoppers. It wasn’t until I returned from the Peace Corps and moved to Santa Monica that I became aware of what a food desert was. My work with the LA Conservation Corps and LA Community Garden Council, building and supporting a vast network of Community Gardens around LA County showed me the power that gardens had in a community. I interacted with young adults who had never seen a fresh carrot or had no idea that pickles started as cucumbers. Building community gardens in these neighborhoods created a sense of ownership that was missing, and they became a powerful influence in my life, to the extent that every open lot I now see instantly transforms into a vision of a beautiful garden.

 

How does gardening affect you personally?

Everybody you talk to about gardening has a story from their past. At some point in our lives, someone we loved had a garden. It was a place for sharing and learning, a place to find solace in a time of grief and joy in your first batch of roasted tomatillo salsa that you grew completely by yourself. I find getting my hands dirty on a regular basis keeps me humble and healthy. Having worked in many schools and many communities, the joy of others success often makes me the most happy. Watching the young child pull a carrot for the first time, and their desire to do it again, is all that matters. I’m fortunate to have a wife and children that embrace growing our own food.

 

What particular gardening methods do you use and would recommend?

Make it organic for starters, which would include keeping petroleum products such as plastic weedcloth out of our soils. We don’t need any more plastic in the world. Plant what you like to eat or view. I like to plant it dense, which is one of the goals of the Ishihara Learning Garden, to demonstrate how much food can be grown in a small space.

 

What has been your biggest gardening joy and challenge?

My biggest joy was watching my daughter, Zinnia, receive the Give Back to Gro Youth Gardener Award this year. Both she and her sister, Makena, have been volunteering to plant trees and build gardens since they could walk, and have been assisting with a food donation program at our Community Garden, Ocean View Farms, for the past 3 years. They assist with gathering donated produce from gardeners, sorting, cleaning and packaging so that food can be donated to local shelters, food banks and food programs. My biggest challenge? Never having enough room to grow.

 

What advice would you give someone who has never gardened but wants to start?

Find something you’d like to grow and plant some seeds. Do some research, ask for advice, and keep trying. I’ve made it a point over the last many years to try and improve on one plant each year. They are all a little different.

 

Being a community gardener means sharing with other gardeners, giving back to the gardens and the greater community. How do you feel your job helps contribute?

Gardens are important to the community, and it’s important that the City recognizes this philosophy. Already I’ve witnessed tremendous volunteer work on behalf of our gardeners, talking with kids, making Seed Bursts, giving tours, helping fellow gardeners, and donating produce to community members. I’m so fortunate to have a position that allows me to do what I love and love what I do, and hope that my passion and excitement for gardening inspires the next generation.