By Justin Swanson, Special to the Independent
Two Carlsbad residents, John Deane and Erin McGrath, visited Laguna Beach on Monday and finding the South Laguna Community Garden on their way to Papa’s Tacos. Both were impressed by the raised beds overflowing with tomatoes, chard, herbs and other vegetables. Deane described it as an “urban retreat” of sorts.
Yet, the property that is home to the town’s only communal garden recently was put on the market, jeopardizing the garden’s continued existence and, consequently, a plethora of benefits it provides.
All hope is not lost for the garden that sprang from local initiative. The South Laguna Civic Association, which has sponsored the garden since its beginning, is seeking 501(c) 3 non-profit status to ensure a tax benefit should potential donors be found to pay the $1 million asking price.
Property owner Paul Tran originally wanted to build on the two-tiered lot at Eagle Rock Way and South Coast Highway. A resident of Louisiana, Tran felt removed from the land and ultimately allowed it to be cultivated as a community garden at the suggestion of South Laguna resident Morrie Granger. Tran visited the garden since and called the transformation “really nice.” Over time, however, the property tax began to take its toll, prompting Tran to sell, as he explains it. He is offering the property to the SLCA for $999,999, a rate lower than what is offered other prospective buyers, an effort to allow the garden to continue being. Otherwise, the listing price is $1.2 million, the amount Tran originally paid for the property.
The all-organic garden holds 53 raised plots including “community plots” and a “Children’s Sharing Garden.” Produce is the primary harvest, though some grow flowers as well. Gardeners from throughout Laguna and beyond work their beds on a trial-and-error basis, experimenting with different techniques and plants. A $50 charge is required per year to help pay for water and as for a share in the equipment and materials already paid for. There is a waiting list for plot openings.
Over its three-year existence, the garden has grown into a Laguna gem, expanding from above on the lot that borders Virginia Way down to the street level. Its development is owed in large part to the dedication of its gardeners. “Self-determination,” landscape architect Ann Christoph says characterizes the garden. “The association decided to do it and it did and we did it all with volunteers and donations. It is a feeling of accomplishment within the community. Others enjoy seeing it come into being – the result and process of it.”
“It’s the only thing that isn’t controversial in Laguna,” notes Bill Rihn, SLCA president, who adds, “There are community gardens all over the country. Our’s isn’t unique, but it sure is a good thing.”
“Edible landscape is starting to take off,” elaborates Sally Coffey, garden member and 22-year Laguna resident. “People who visit come in droves and they want to talk to the gardeners. There is an exchange of information. Sharing knowledge moves as quickly as the internet here.”
It is this exchange of information that Christoph, Rihn, and Coffey all point to as the basis for the garden’s most beneficial aspect. “People are interested to see what other people are doing, to learn different things. Ultimately, we’re growing friendships – ones that otherwise wouldn’t be without the garden,” says Rihn. Coffey calls it an “instant family” that was fostered from the garden’s inception that greatly helped her as she began retired life. “There’re more than just gardeners coming here; there are friends.” Christoph adds, “It’s easier to make friends working in the garden than other ways because of the subject matter: there is a common goal here.”
Founder Granger also points to the garden’s knack for serving as a “focal point” within the town. People picking up take-out at nearby Papa’s Tacos, beachgoers, even foreign tourists enter the unlocked garden gate to saunter among its beds. Too, there are the “Coffee Dogs” who frequent the garden in mornings for coffee and conversation, which Granger takes part in.
Granger reminisces how the once “ugly” lot became “something to be proud of” in the community.
Chelsea Vantol, a one-year Laguna resident, lives on Virginia Way, not far from the garden. Though she has a garden of her own at home, Vantol was drawn to the community garden and found herself weeding the common areas and helping out where she could – “therapeutic work” as she deems it. “It’s wonderful to be in a community where people talk to and share with each other, all for a love of nature. Having something in common helps build the community.”
To learn more about the history of the garden and its donors, visit southlaguna.org/garden