Locals celebrate at the market Credit: Mary Weybright

Martha Bardach, a former bureau photo editor for Time magazine, has been a dedicated volunteer from the earliest days of the Ishihara Park Learning Garden. The Ishihara Park Learning Garden opened in 2017 and was the first shared communal garden of the City of Santa Monica Community Gardens. Working closely with Teague Weybright, the Community Gardens Program Coordinator and a cadre of volunteers, Martha has helped to grow and share at least three thousand pounds of produce each year with the people of Santa Monica and those served by the Venice Family Clinic. (Yes, the Ishihara team documents its garden’s harvest and donations every working day and has good stats).

In early July, I interviewed Martha, in advance of her 80th birthday celebration at the Ishihara Park Communal Garden with her fellow gardeners. It was my pleasure to speak with Martha, who began her journey to becoming a more experienced food and vegetable gardener only very recently.

Martha’s reflections are invigorating:

The garden has been a very valuable experience for me. And, I’d like to show other older people how good it is to view gardening as great exercise. It’s wonderful; I feel incredibly young and I feel stronger than I’ve ever been.

My volunteer work at Ishihara has completely changed my thinking about how to live a long, good life: It really takes being part of a community that provides many things like friendship and healthy exercise. Growing older and in retirement, it’s so important to stay connected to people. I’ve found that a diverse, caring community is vital in aging well.

I have had a “community” with my family, at school, then in my work life. I retired from my professional life in 2009. At that time, I had younger grandchildren, and I was able to help out in their lives. When Ishihara Park opened in February 2017, I had time to jump right in to volunteering at the Learning Garden from its first opening week. Now I schedule three mornings a week and the 3rd Saturday of the month to my Ishihara Learning Garden commitment.

I have had a lot of experience gardening in my landscaped home garden. I’ve gardened with family and friends in their gardens. But at Ishihara I am doing something new and important for me that benefits a neighborhood community, edible food production. Ishihara Learning Garden has been remarkably productive. These past 6-plus years have been such a perfect time! In so many ways, Ishihara is a “learning” garden. I am acquiring a whole new skill set; yes, it’s vital to learn new things. I’ve always loved gardens and gardening, but now I am finding out how to produce vegetables in an organic, sustainable way. Along with all my great, dedicated Ishihara volunteer friends and the knowledgeable leadership and guidance of Teague Weybright, I am now gardening with a purpose.

I was 74 when the garden opened in 2017. For my 75th birthday in the garden, I baked zucchini bread from our summer crop for my Ishihara friends to celebrate my birthday. As my 80th birthday has neared, I realized there was no more important place or group – outside my family – that I wanted to celebrate it with. At 80 years old, I want to honor this special place that I get to be a part of: Ishihara Learning Garden is a space to learn and grow with a great A-Team of volunteers. Together we “feed and nourish” each other and grow food for others. How great is that!

So much love is shared by everyone for me and for each other. What a wonderful Ishihara family we have. We can be proud of how a community garden can bring “community” to a community. My 80th birthday celebration was beyond my wildest dreams.

Camille Kesterman, Special to the Daily Press