The Community Gardens of Santa Clarita held its first meeting of the year on Saturday in Central Park.
“We’ve combined out council meetings with working days to accommodate the members with regular jobs and we’re in the middle of the winter crop now,” said Mark Hershey, president of the Community Gardens. “We like to have two different harvests a year. January is a great time to start planting because if you get your seeds ready now by the time you’re ready to plant in the spring they’ll be ready to go.”
The Community Gardens are located on a 1.2 acre land grant from the city. There are 131 garden plots and five universal access plots for those with disabilities, as well as a 40-tree orchard, 12 chickens, a greenhouse, butterfly gardens and a shaded patio area where classes are held.
Members of the Community Gardens can pay $50 for a 10-foot-by-10-foot plot of land, or $100 for a 10-foot-by-20-foot plot. Members are also expected to complete at least 12 hours of work around the garden each year.
All the crops are grown in the gardens are grown organically and without the use of pesticides.
“The gardens were established on the idea of organic gardening, sustainability and good ecology,” Hershey said. “I personally don’t like how pesticides kill and harm things all throughout the food chain, especially things you don’t intend. These are things we eat, so it’s only a matter of time until it comes back to us.”
Mary Mann has been a member of the Community Gardens for four years, and likes to grow leafy green vegetables, in addition to root crops like carrots and radishes.
“It’a a great day to be outside and burn a few calories,” Mann said. “I usually grow so much that I end up giving it away to teachers, friends and other people in the community. I just hope to get to them before the rats do.”
Rats are the biggest challenge the gardeners face. While some gardeners have been able to build enclosures or wire cages to protect their plants from the hungry rodents, others turn to more cost-friendly options like buying metal baskets and putting rocks on top of them. Hershey said that the rats were responsible for ruining a whole crop of pumpkins last year and for eating much of the fruit before the community members were able to harvest it.
“We put up some houses for barn owls and they haven’t been occupied, yet; but hopefully, soon we’ll see some heads poking out to help us keep the rat population down,” Hershey said.
Outreach chair Carol Mireles, a member since 2010, leads the group’s outreach programs which began in 2011. Two 10-foot-by-20-foot plots dedicated to the Santa Clarita Food Pantry and Help the Children are managed by volunteers throughout the year, and the 1,800 pounds of produce grown goes directly back to those organizations.
“The city of Santa Clarita was so good to us in helping us get started that we felt we needed to give back to the community,” Mireles said. “We’re so lucky to have this land and these food banks usually give out canned foods that are high in sodium, so we’re glad for the opportunity to give them some fresh food.”
Buzz and Soon-Ok Dixon joined the Community Gardens last year as a way to provide their grandchildren with a soothing activity that got them to interact with the environment as well as a way to promote healthy eating and community engagement.
“We used to garden in our old home but we live in a townhouse now so without the garden it wouldn’t really be possible for us to grow anything,” Soon-Ok said.
Buzz said that he’s grateful to have a plot in the Community Gardens and believes that they have a “multi-layered” impact on the community.
“They provide a sense of community and give people an opportunity to get out of the house and do something,” he said. “You can grow your own food, know where it comes from and how healthy it is and also help provide food for those in Santa Clarita that might need it.”
Going forward, Hershey hopes to create a garden area dedicated to native plants and to grow a successful pumpkin crop this year to give to children during the fall.
“The Community Gardens are just a great place for all different people to get together and experience the joy of growing something,” Hershey said. “Even if some of our members may disagree on some topics, we all have our love of gardening in common.”
For more information about the Community Gardens of Santa Clarita or to get on the waiting list for a garden plot, visit https://www.communitygardensofsantaclarita.org.