In 1974, the City Council of Long Beach asked the Long Beach Parks Department to study the concept of vacant city properties being used for private vegetable plots. The resultant proposal to build a community garden at the old Honor Farm, which was abandoned and a perfect place for a garden, at Dovey and Carson Streets was supported by the Park Commission in mid-1975 and approved by the City Council in January, 1976.
The Honor Farm was fenced , gated, had access to water, great sandy loam soil, compost bins, roads, some rustic buildings and a small orchard. It was heaven to a gardener.
After approval by the city council, an application was submitted for a matching grant under the Land and Water Conservation Fund in February 1976, which was approved in April 1976. Construction began at that time and the Long Beach Community Garden Association was organized on May 8, 1976. The cost of the initial development was $10,572. Two hundred and eighteen garden plots were staked out with corner posts and twine. Priority of assignment of plots from the waiting list was given to those persons over 62 years of age—one person over 62 was assigned a plot for every person under age 62 assigned.
After the opening of the gardens, LBCGA incorporated and applied for NOT FOR PROFIT status. The governing body supervised the day to day operations, purchasing of liability insurance, hoses, wheelbarrows and also overseeing of the maintenance. The Parks Department served as a clearing house for advice and assistance. LBCGA bore all the continuing costs with the exception of rest room rental, trash pick up and irrigation system maintenance but during the ensuing years, the above costs were transferred to the Association.
After the opening of the gardens and its success, the Association proceeded to develop the other half of our 6 ½ acre site, putting in a water system and more garden plots.
And so we gardened in our little corner of “heaven” with our rustic, old buildings, funky roads and antiquated water system. In 1989 regular work parties were started to keep the common area clean and presentable, correction notices were enforced, a newsletter, food bank, trial garden, gopher control and a bulletin board were started by the Officers and Board Members. By laws and rules were re written to encompass all of the new changes. An orientation program for new garden members was put into place.
Early in the 1990’s we heard rumors that various people were looking at our garden spot as a good place to expand their operations or build something new. Since we didn’t know what would happen to us, we formed a Relocation Committee to look at other options and locations. The rumors quieted and we settled down and continued to garden in our place with the rustic old buildings, broken down roads, antiquated water system that was always breaking down and great gardeners who simply amazed us with their skills. Had it not been for the constant rumors that we were going to be moved, we would have restored all the old buildings and made it a show place. Instead, we patched it up and made do and we seemed to be happy with all that we had. It was a place of peace and contentment when we were there.
Finally, in late 1996, the word came that we actually were going to be moved. Our location was to be part of a new mall. Our Relocation Committee met several times with city officials, Parks Director and Landscape Architects and we gave them our wish list. The plans were drawn, presented to us and we made many changes. Our new location was to be adjacent to in El Dorado Park on an 8 ½ acre of land.
Construction began in September 1997 and on December 1, 1997; we opened our gates to our membership. What resulted was a beautiful state of the art community garden, so magnificent that many cities have come to copy us.
From our opening day until the present time, we have improved our garden site.
At opening we looked at a little over 300, 20 by 30 foot garden plots with redwood borders and four foot wide fire lane chipped pathways. The water system was state of the art, paved roads in and surrounding the gardens, completely fenced and an extra acre of land on the east to develop as we saw fit. Also, a large gazebo was there, for shelter.
We lost about 100 members when we moved so we had a lot of vacancies but we had a huge waiting list, over 200, which were contacted with many becoming new members of LBCGA. The phenomenon that happened after opening day was simply remarkable; we really became a “COMMUNITY.” Everyone stepped forward and helped each other. Members who had tillers were tilling any garden that needed it, those who had trucks brought in loads of amendment, compost, etc for everyone. There was so much to be done and money was at a minimum.
For the next few months, many stayed at the gardens working the common areas 7 days a week and 8 hours a day. One member alone made 86 redwood hose hangers and installed them at each garden quad. New wheelbarrows and hoses were donated to us. Work parties were begun and the attendance was unbelievable as everyone wanted to get things going. One day, an owner of a horse stable came by and asked if we could use manure, he was a God send and he still delivers to this day. We contacted a tree service for our chips with requests as to what chips we would accept and they agreed and continue to this day.
These past years, since opening, we have done many, many improvements. We had a member who was a wizard at carpentry and in addition to making the above mentioned hose hangers, he built a beautiful Food Bank Collection Station. We are engaged in huge programs, where we distribute food to the needy. He also built a similar structure for members to share their vegetables with each other.
An information board was constructed and installed just inside our gate to keep members informed of important happenings.
We planted flowering vines on the fences surrounding the gardens and berry bushes on the orchard fence.
We took the vacant acre of land and planted citrus and stone fruit trees and added a little white and green barn in the middle of it. Later we bought a larger barn and also added it to the orchard. The trees provide wonderful fruit which the orchard chairman distributes to the member’s table.
All in all, this has been a wonderful journey for us. We will always be a project in progress. We must have done something right since magazines, movie companies and television projects have filmed here and we hope to continue.