By Vince Echavaria
Amid a row of residences not far from Abbot Kinney Boulevard in Venice lies a serene open-air lot that is home to sprouting fruits and vegetables and a variety of plants.
The 6,000-square foot property at Mildred and Clark avenues with 54 designated plots is where community members test out their green thumbs, planting and growing their own assortments of food. Those with a passion for gardening, some beginners and others more experienced, come to the Venice Community Garden as individuals or with family and friends to take advantage of the land that is wide open for sunlight in the middle of a Los Angeles neighborhood.
Here, they can also swap tips on sustainable practices and different techniques for growing healthy foods.
“People just love it and it’s sort of become a bit of a landmark around here,” said Kip Wood, the founder of the Venice Community Garden. “We really created something that the community loves, is beautiful and is thriving.”
Since the garden opened about three years ago the site has become quite popular among local residents, and has now attracted a wait list of approximately 200 people for individual plots, Wood said.
When Wood launched the garden program he said he was shocked to find that there were no other such places in the community where residents could garden in a designated, non-residential location. Community gardens have been a popular concept in other parts of the Los Angeles area like Santa Monica.
“I just couldn’t believe there wasn’t one in Venice, and thought that of all the places in L.A., Venice seems like the natural place for a community garden,” Wood recalled. “I’ve always been sort of enchanted by community gardens, seeing them in a big city.”
In addition to offering an area for community members to learn and practice gardening, the site has hosted pot luck events and classes as well as field trips for students from local schools like Coeur d’Alene Elementary.
The garden, with its 4-foot-by-12-foot plots, has drawn the attention of many a passerby, particularly those on bicycles, said Wood, who believes people are attracted by the sight of a garden in an urban area.
“I think it’s that sense of seeing something like this in the middle of a city that is always kind of startling and exciting,” he said. “It just brings a certain joy that I think other things don’t – seeing a garden growing in the city, especially in L.A. where there’s not that much green space.”
While the Venice garden has been well-received, Wood and others are saddened that the land may no longer be used for garden space, as the property owner has expressed his intention of selling the parcel. If the land were to be purchased, Wood said it is likely the gardens would be replaced with some type of development.
Wood currently pays a monthly rent to use the land after collecting fees from garden members.
For some members, the program has been a way for them to pursue their interests in gardening and eating healthier. “I was attracted to the idea of producing my own food,” said Jake Alfonso, who grows tomatoes, peppers, squash and cantaloupe. “It’s fresh and it makes a world of difference in the flavor.”
Jennifer Eagen, who was working on her garden one recent afternoon with her daughter, Addie, and son, Jake, said gardening is an activity her family can do together while also seeking healthier food choices.
“I’ve never done it before but I’m really interested in having my kids eat healthier and being able to do it ourselves, and it seemed like a great way to do something from the seed to cooking and eating it,” said Eagen, whose family grows peppers, cucumber, kale, lettuce and tomatoes.
Resident Gonzalo Amat, who learned about gardening from his father and grandfather, said the community garden provides the adequate space for growing food that his apartment lacks. “I want to try to get (gardening) back as a family thing,” he said.
The garden lot property is owned by Don Novack, the owner of Hal’s Bar and Grill on Abbot Kinney Boulevard, who says he plans to put the land up for sale sometime this summer. Novack has been pleased to allow community members to make use of the land for gardening interests but says it’s costly to leave it as a garden.
“I’ve talked to a few of the plot owners and they all love it, and I think we really need gardens in the area. I like the idea of that whole thing,” said Novack, who noted that he has bought food grown at the garden for his restaurants, Hal’s and CasaLinda.
Novack said he would love to be able to sell the property and have it preserved as a garden but that may be a difficult option financially for the buyer. Once the parcel is sold he anticipates that it could take six months to a year before the new owner takes over, and he hopes to give the garden members adequate notice of the plans.
Some gardeners lamented the possible loss of the lot and hoped outreach efforts may help find a buyer interested in preserving the garden.
“I’m really bummed; we waited a really long time to be able to do this and just because of the importance of the education around it for my children and how it brings the family together,” Eagen said. “There’s so many nice people who share gardening tips and it’s a great community to be a part of so I would hate to see that go.”
Molly Tait said being a part of the Venice Community Garden has enabled her to feel more connected to her community and she would be “absolutely gutted if it was gone.”
Wood said he is not aware of another Venice location that is available and offers the same benefits: plenty of sunlight, easy parking, and being quiet and away from the main road.
Noting the challenge of finding a solution that could preserve the property for garden use, Wood said he hopes there may be a group like a land trust or philanthropic organization that could provide funding in an effort to save a community resource. “It’s such an asset to the community and I’d hate to lose it,” he said.
A community garden in South Los Angeles that was in danger of being auctioned in a county sale three years ago was saved after the Los Angeles Neighborhood Land Trust intervened at the encouragement of a community gardener. The land trust helped postpone the sale and find a philanthropist who contributed $150,000 toward the project.