Long Beach Fresh recently spoke to Joe Corso, garden director with Long Beach Organic (LBO), at the bountiful South 40 Farm Lot off of South Street on the benefits of community gardening.
LBO was formed in 1994 by local environmentalist Charles Moore. His vision was that empty lots in Long Beach could be used to produce food and improve the environment. For instance, some cities have many empty lots used as parking lots that accumulate oil residue. When converting these lots into gardens, the bacteria in the mulch that is used can consume the oil and eliminate it.
“We are specifically into taking blighted areas and making them nice,” Corso said. “That sets us apart from other organizations. It’s not just about growing food. It’s about bioremediation – actually correcting soil with organic material, making it healthy and more absorbent. Transforming lots into gardens produces local food and cuts down on transportation and trash from packaging.”
LBO develops gardens throughout Long Beach for people to rent small plots to grow food for themselves. Most plots are 10 feet by 10 feet, the typical fees for which are $100 annually. The larger investment is the time it takes to maintain the plot, which is just a few hours two to three times a week.
Whether an expert gardener or completely new to it, community gardeners can learn from each other. Corso has written some literature with simple tips to help enthusiasts get started.
“There’s more than one right way to do it so the odds are in your favor,” Corso said. “Just get something growing and you’ll feel much better. Plants want to grow.”
Gardens in denser and more affluent areas typically have longer waiting lists compared to those in less dense areas. For example, the gardens in north and west Long Beach have the most open plots, although part of the reason is that the gardening trend has not caught on.
Yet gardening cuts across all classes, ethnicities, and age groups. Community gardening opens up opportunities to diverse populations.
“Our oldest garden, downtown at 6th and Pacific, is very tiny, with 12 plots and six languages – only in Long Beach,” Corso said.
A variety of cuisines are shared at potlucks hosted by LBO. The gardens have many immigrants who grow food from their home countries that they use to prepare dishes that people at the potlucks may have never tasted.
“It’s just something very special about the community gardens,” Corso said. “These folks maybe wouldn’t make the effort to communicate if they weren’t gardening side by side.”
South 40 also has a space set aside for a charity garden called Jardin De Los Santos (Garden of the Saints). Almost weekly, LBO takes several bags of nutrient dense foods like Swiss chard and collard greens to the Long Beach Rescue Mission, a shelter and program provider for homeless individuals in Long Beach.
South 40 is located in a food desert. There are not as many mom and pop restaurants, good ethnic restaurants, or supermarkets as there are in other neighborhoods of Long Beach. Corso believes it’s not just a supply problem but a demand problem. However, LBO hopes to change this lack of practice by helping people to see the benefits of gardening and growing good food. People who see the garden each year may be tempted to try it out for themselves.
LBO wants to expand their staff and utilize the gardens for more visits, learning opportunities, and educational workshops.
“Gardening by its nature is an investment in the future,” Corso said. “So many people would benefit if they took the time to get started.”
Long Beach Organic is a 501C3 and accepts donations.
Melina Paris is a Southern California based writer. She blends her passion for writing and
connecting people to their local community into pieces centered on food, the arts, and cultural
events. Melina’s publications include, Amass Magazine, Random Lengths News, Everything
Long Beach. Becoming a mother ignited Melina’s interest in wholesome, quality food. This motivates her to continuously educate herself in matters of food from a health and sustainability perspective which informs her restaurant reviews and other food-related pieces.