Village Matters: Cultivating Community

By Ann Christoph.

By Ann Christoph.

Barbra Streisand’s lilting nostalgic song at the Oscars Sunday night brought back not only the first time I saw that movie “The Way We Were,” but memories of how I was then in 1973. An aspiring landscape architect working for Fred Lang, with who knows which boyfriend, engrossed in saving the South Laguna hills from development.  “We” at that time were Lang, and geologist Fred Pratley, transportation specialist Pete Fielding, architect and planner Alvin Wiehle, artist and vice president of the South Laguna Civic Association John Phelan, the association president Lorell Long, Jack and Barbara Heiser (now she’s Barbara Miller), Laura Wantz, Carol Thompson and others.

All of us were united in saving the environment of our community. Meeting after meeting, intense discussions way into the night, organizing, spreading the word, trip after trip to Santa Ana.  Looking back, I feel now it was a special era, a feeling of mutual commitment to pushing boundaries, promoting a cause that was treated as radical, even anti-American. Saving open space, planning with the characteristics of the land, limiting development–these were revolutionary ideas then.

There is a special bond with those I shared this work with, both departed and still available, and I wish there were “class reunions” for these landmark periods of life.

Saturday night was our annual “Dinner Across Laguna” benefiting Friendship Shelter.  Executive Director Dawn Price announced that the shelter is now in its 25th year and asked who at the dinner was there at the beginning days of founding the Shelter.  Several people raised their hands, including our host and first director of the shelter, Colin Henderson. Can you imagine a group committed to developing a humane, problem-solving, permanent facility to help the homeless starting with nothing but their hearts?  Meeting after meeting, hammering out the details, getting the funding, purchasing a building (!), developing an innovative program that has been instrumental in helping nearly 7,000 people to self-sufficiency. It must have seemed overwhelming at the beginning, but step by step, with persistence and devotion, the Shelter came to be.

The shelter was a “way we were” radical idea also that has now transitioned into an accepted and respected Laguna Beach community asset.

We are in another one of those very meaningful periods in our lives.  I feel that some day I will look back on this time and treasure the inspiration, the challenges, the energy, and the wonderful people who are sharing this special moment in local history.

The community garden idea is blossoming. The South Laguna Community Garden Park committee is asked to share its experience with other neighborhoods’ hopeful gardeners and with groups as diverse as the real estate professionals, and the Laguna Canyon Conservancy.  As we meet more and more people and talk about the benefits of “cultivating community,” we build enthusiasm and energy.

Saturday was another stellar day. Beautiful weather, swarms of garden lovers from all over town, weeding, fixing up, tending plots, and learning about recycling food waste through vermicomposting. Michelle Haynes convinced us that keeping food waste from the landfill and recycling it is not only the right thing to do, it is healthy for your garden, and easy to incorporate into our way of life. Who knew worms could be so fascinating and lovable? Haynes suggests we name our worms, since these red wigglers are our living partners in this recycling; our waste is their food, their waste is food for our gardens.

One of our gardeners, Victor Reyes, brought his Mexican heritage into the garden by planting a chayote squash. This huge vine has been producing some very spiney fruit, shaped like a large avocado. What do you do with that? Victor gave us an impromptu demonstration.  After simmering for 2-3 hours the spiney skin is easily removed, revealing a large amount of semi-starchy, squash-like vegetable. Sally Coffey says it tastes like artichoke heart. Victor serves it with hot sauce, lime and salt. Many sampled these tasty chunks.

The garden is an informal forum for multi-cultural and neighborly interchanges.  This is where peace, harmony and deep appreciation for life takes place.

The garden property is up for sale, and we want to take advantage of this opportunity to make it a permanent community asset.  Fundraising is in progress.  This garden and others can be not only “The Way We Were,” but, “the way we are.”  You can be part of this era of Laguna community spirit, innovation and movement.  Go to SouthLaguna.org/garden to see how.


Ann Christoph is a landscape architect and former council member.  Contact: [email protected]

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