At Last, Community Gardens Project Takes Root Today

After more than a decade of discussion and false starts, two empty sites in Burbank are showing early signs of blooming into community gardens, with a nonprofit holding a public planning meeting this morning.

The Los Angeles Community Garden Council is hosting the kickoff event from 9-11 a.m. at 3705 W. Clark Ave. There, council representatives will explain plans for cultivating that site, as well as one at 1141 N. Pass Ave., into community spaces at which residents will be able to rent plots to grow crops, flowers and other plants.

Participants are advised to bring a face covering, wide-brimmed hat, water bottle and folding chair. All residents are welcome to attend.

“The goal for the city is to have a diverse group of community members that come out to learn more about the gardens and participate,” said Diego Cevallos, deputy director of the Burbank Parks and Recreation Department. “They’ve been locked in their houses for quite some time because of COVID, and we want them to come out and experience … the process.”

The council, a nonprofit that helps local cities and communities develop gardens, will oversee the two sites, which will each offer an estimated 30 gardening plots, according to Cevallos. Residents will be able to rent those plots for an annual fee, 10% of which will go to the nonprofit for utilities, insurance and internal operations costs. The rest of the money will go toward maintaining the garden sites.

The council will also craft rules and expectations for use of the gardens, provide training for participants and help residents plan their plots.

Diana Campos-Jimenez, operations manager at the nonprofit, said that representatives will ask residents at today’s meeting about what they want to see at the gardens, and that further meetings will be scheduled. She added that, depending on the design of the gardens, residents could start renting plots early next year. Until then, volunteers and members can help with soil restoration at the two sites.

“Ever since the pandemic happened, the interest to grow your own organic food has gone up,” Campos-Jimenez said. “People just want to have that direct access, and I think, also, it allows them to step out and not feel so constrained to their apartment or home.”

DEPARTMENT PLANTS SEEDS OF IDEA

The Parks and Recreation Department has considered the possibility of creating a community garden since 2008, according to a staff report submitted to the City Council in early May. At one point, there were as many as 15 such sites in Burbank — 14 operated by the Burbank Unified School District, and one that was maintained by a neighborhood.

Despite the support of some community members who volunteered to prepare a site for development and the work of Woodbury University students to create a design plan, the creation of the community gardens has taken years to blossom. But last year the L.A. Department of Water and Power, which owns the two small lots, agreed to allow Burbank to use the land free of charge.

The garden council will raise money through donations and plot rentals to pay for the construction of plant beds and other aspects of the gardens. The $125,000 that the City Council allocated in 2015 to pay for the design and construction of a garden at the Pass Avenue site will instead be used to pay for items at both gardens, such as fencing and the installation of potable water. 

For Alex Arciniega — whose participation in a University of California program earned her the title of master gardener — and former Burbank recycling coordinator Kreigh Hampel, the day of the kickoff event is one they’ve long awaited.

The pair met while performing some cleanup work and basic gardening at one of the sites during an event orchestrated by former Mayor Dave Golonski some years ago. They said they’re excited that their hopes and efforts — which have included organizing writing campaigns to the City Council and educating residents on the benefits of community gardens — are finally bearing fruit.

“To say this has been a part-time job has been an understatement,” Arciniega said. “I feel like the hardest part is staying committed to the cause, keeping people positive and engaged. … Because with so many false starts, so many people said, ‘I was there 10 years ago. This is never going to happen.’”

INTEREST GROWS

One of the obstacles to the gardens’ creation, Hampel and Campos-Jimenez believe, was the loss of Parks and Recreation staff members who had been working on the project, along with the time it took for the city to navigate the lengthy bureaucratic process while working with other agencies.

But like others, Hampel said the pandemic has given public interest in public gardening new roots, and can be a particularly attractive prospect to residents who don’t have private yards. 

“Last year, first it was toilet paper and canned goods that disappeared from shelves,” he said. “The next thing was garden seeds, tomato plants and bags of compost.”

Hampel also hopes the community gardens will serve as a hub for local education about sustainability. Emissions from lawn equipment and trucks used by those caring for landscapes in single-family neighborhoods can present a burden to the environment, he said, but the gardens could produce conversations about implementing more healthful practices.

Those conversations, Hampel added, could center on everything from pollination to water harvest to reducing food insecurity by growing crops.

“This is not difficult. This is actually completely doable,” he said. “And we start one family at a time.”