Step outside your home and you’ll likely hear tires screeching, horns honking, and engines revving—the familiar sounds of traffic and life in a big city. They’re the noises that define the greater area of Los Angeles, where roads, buildings, and concrete extend as far as the eye can see.
On the corner of Monterey Road and Cordova Avenue in Glendale, however, there’s a different kind of traffic happening; only instead of cars and streets there are insects and soil; tomatoes and sunflowers rather than billboards and parking structures. The street noise is drowned out by a spraying hose. There’s no smell of car exhaust here; just the soft, soothing aroma of lavender and basil. It’s another kind of life happening in this enclosed space right next to the 134 freeway—the lively yet tranquil environment of a community garden.
This specific garden belongs to the Monterey Eco-Community Gardens of Glendale, a group founded in April 2009. Their mission is in tandem with the Coalition for a Green Glendale, in which they plan to not only turn vacant city lots into community gardens, but promote awareness of local environmental issues and encourage fellow citizens to adopt an eco-friendly lifestyle.
On this particular day, Hannah Maximova, a mother and former chairwoman of the Community Gardens group, waters her area of the garden. As she likes to say, nowadays, she’s “just a gardener,” but having done so for many years, she’s picked up a lot of information that most people lack in a big city. For starters, she grows her own food, “It’s amazing to get to participate in understanding nature enough that you can produce food. Before this, I didn’t know how to make my own food grow out of the ground. But I sure do now.”
This includes a wide range of vegetables one can find in a grocery store. The difference, however, is that the quality and taste of the produce from a home garden is significantly higher. As Hannah points out, “Some things are unrecognizable. The onions we can grow in here…it was unlike any onion I’d ever tasted. It was incredible.” There’s nothing quite like a vegetable or fruit eaten fresh from a garden, and it’s not only about the taste, but the nutrition as well. Hannah describes it even further, “This is why the old people from the old country cry when they eat a real tomato. Because they remember real food, and how it nourishes you.”
But there’s more to this garden than vegetables. One of the great advantages of a community garden is the chance to interact with the community. Glendale happens to be home to people of numerous backgrounds and cultures, and it shows in their gardens, “We have all different countries here, and when people go home to visit, they come back with seeds. So we get native seeds from all over the world…It’s like their plots are little versions of their country.” Not only are there exciting personalities, but a chance to learn generations of knowledge regarding plants many have never seen before. The garden is a communal effort; so people like Hannah never feel alone when they are there, “We all learn from each other and share food with each other, and it’s fascinating and fun.”
Another enjoyable experience of the community gardens is the use of compost, which is a purely organic fertilizer made of decomposed materials. The Monterey Gardens have an entire compost area, with two people assigned to manage it, “We compost everything from our plot. It’s unbelievable. There is no fertilizer that can touch what compost accomplishes…A few weeks ago, I harvested a compost bin, and filled my plot, and [my plants] doubled in a very, very short time.” Hannah’s experience is an example of recycling waste to the point where she is literally feeding the earth with its own product. There’s no need for synthetic fertilizers when she has something far richer and sustainable right in front of her.
This is one of the most important advantages of the community garden, in that it’s an eco-friendly, sustainable environment. Having been with the organization since its inception, Hannah knows as much as anyone about the impact that the garden has had for the city, as well as for the individuals who use the garden. On her own personal level, Hannah talks about the satisfaction she gets from gardening, “It’s lovely to have some place where you know no harm has come to anybody, and you’ve helped. The bees are fed, you know? The lizards are fed. Necessary parts of my eco-environment are stronger because of my gardening.” This can be true for anyone who wants to take care of a garden. When you give to the earth, you get something back, and that’s what living green is all about.
On a lighter note, a community garden is not just a place for adults and serious gardeners; children are also welcome to help maintain the plants and watch nature in action, “For apartment and condo dwellers, our kids get to understand food and nature.” This is especially true if they’re interested in all the bugs one can find in a garden. Hannah has had numerous encounters with insects of all kind, including one with a praying mantis, “It was looking at me, and it reached into the air, and pulled a bee out of the air with one hand, and then started eating it like a burger. And I could hear it crunching…And I’ve also seen a praying mantis being eaten by a bunch of bees. It’s revenge!”
At the end of the day, though, a community garden is a great place to interact with people who enjoy growing their own food and plants, while doing their own part to promote an eco-friendly lifestyle. This is especially true in an urban setting. As Hannah puts it, “We say if everybody knew what was happening here, these would be on every corner of the country.”
We may achieve this goal one day, but for now, we can start with community gardens in our local areas. Hannah says it best, “It is such a lovely way to spend your afternoon. For free.”
For more information on the Monterey Eco-Community Gardens of Glendale, or for your own local community gardens, click on the links below.
Monterey Eco-Community Gardens of Glendale:
Community Gardens (LA):
Community Gardens (Pasadena):
Community Gardens (Orange County):
Video by: Heather Kennedy & Mikael Gustafson
Heather Kennedy is the Co-founder of Urban Treehouse. She produces the blog and web series and finds joy in having the opportunity to share inspiring stories about people in her community that are making a difference.
Heather also co-owns Sea Stand Productions with her husband and Director of Photography for Urban Treehouse, Mikael Gustafson, where the two produce documentaries, commercials, and web videos for a variety of companies with a focus in nonprofit organizations.
Article by: David Rathbun