Village Matters: Harvesting Common Purpose

By Ann Christoph.

It could seem puzzling that at the low price end of the culinary spectrum we can go to a buffet and have unlimited plates of whatever items we choose, but at the higher price point we may be served only a small exquisitely arranged exhibit of tiny bits.

Is it a match between quantity and quality, or between practicality and pretentiousness?

Here in Laguna we have a lifestyle of the small plates.  A small community with small streets and small houses, with an exquisite touch of history, making up our renown and beloved village character.  Yet pretentiousness can transform that small plate of village character into a caricature.

Practicality, down-to-earthiness, and creativity save us from that fate.

I have red cabbage in my plot at the community garden, onions, Brussels sprouts, tomatoes. Also, there are friends. We weed out Bermuda grass with our trowels and stand back looking at our achievement.  How can something as mundane and tedious be so fulfilling?

We plant aloes donated by a neighbor. Gayle Joliet smiles, “Whenever we finish a morning of working in the garden it always looks better.”

The challenge is to make something out of as close to nothing as possible. Donated lumber, rocks, community help, each of us paying a small amount…and lots of our own work.  Together we decide.  Walking through or driving by we relish the beauty that has grown from a dry weed patch.

An Eagle Scout candidate will be landing soon. “Be sure to bring gloves and sturdy shoes,” we advise. We are hoping a rock pile will be turned into a rock wall with those young computer-oriented hands. Somehow point and click is not a concept that applies to rocks. Confidence comes with capability, and grasping physical reality.

Could we have paid to have the whole garden built? Perhaps, but would it have been good for us? Would the garden have been truly ours? Would we have appreciated the transformation in the same intimate way? Would our children have climbed the dirt mountain, helped to fill the planter boxes, and seen their dreams grow?

It is a place where we must confront practicality and find ways to make food and beauty from dirt, chicken manure, water, seeds and seedlings, blended with big portions of love, joy, and getting along.

“Village” is not a look.  It is a way of life.  If we go after the look without the substance we will have a caricature.

It’s not the number of tomatoes we grow for money. It’s how the community garden is the opposite of pretentiousness. It has grounded us, injecting village spirit in our harvests.

Now there are signs at the garden.  Our host for the garden, who has been so generous, has put the land up for sale.  Now we are facing practicality in a big way.  We could lose the garden.

Community and garden growing—one of our small plates, Laguna version.  Can you help?


The South Laguna Community Garden is sponsored by the South Laguna Civic Association, P.O. Box 9668, South Laguna 92652 Donations are appreciated.


Ann Christoph is a landscape architect and former mayor of Laguna Beach.

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