There is so much that’s good about an urban garden. It brings people together, it feeds people, it educates, it adds positive energy to the environment, and it provides a connection with nature in the midst of all that steel and concrete.
The rise of urban gardening in Downtown began in the mid-’90s, was accelerated by the pandemic, and has maintained momentum, as evidenced by the high demand for plots in its community gardens. Here are six Downtown gardens, each with a distinctive vibe, all run by firmly grounded folks who have an eye on healthier communities and a cleaner, sustainable future.
SOWING SEEDS OF CHANGE
Located near the 7th Street dead-end on the western edge of Downtown, with cars whizzing by on nearby freeway overpasses, Sowing Seeds of Change is the very definition of an urban garden. Enter the lush, green, and earthy space to see the results of three years of ambition on the part of Dina Feldman and Lindsay Smith, friends and business partners who shared a dream of an urban farm and made it happen.
“We’re basically an educational farm, so our primary mission is to provide vocational training and employment opportunities to foster youth and young adults with disabilities,” said Feldman, pausing to help James Wright of Food Finders, who had arrived to pick up a crop of fresh vegetables for delivery to unhoused individuals.
The partnership with Wright and nonprofit Food Finders is just one of the many affiliations Feldman and Smith have cultivated since they were introduced by Ryan Smolar of the local nonprofit Long Beach Fresh three years ago. They are always looking to connect with like-minded folks.
Feldman and Smith are looking to host more events, with their priority being new networking and employment opportunities for their students. “As we grow, we remember that we didn’t get here alone,” said Smith. “We’re insanely grateful for all our cheerleaders and everyone who has supported us.”
Learn more about Sowing Seeds of Change here.
7TH & CHESTNUT COMMUNITY GARDEN
Formerly a Willmore District vacant lot owned by its next-door neighbor, the 7th & Chestnut Garden has occupied this corner since 2011. “We had been looking for plots in densely populated areas in 2009,” said Joe Corso, Garden Director for the nonprofit Long Beach Organic and long-time advocate of urban gardening in Long Beach. “The owner gave us a three-year lease in 2011. Twelve years later, we’re still here,” he said.
The waiting list for plots in this garden is long. “Because of the parking situation, we only consider people who live nearby,” Corso said. “There’s a two-year wait, based on high Downtown demand. Don’t hesitate to get on the waiting list at LongBeachOrganic.org, though.”
Assistant Garden Director Jaime Falcón observed that “opportunities for the community to feed itself and work for itself are life-changing in some ways. This garden enables that to happen in a very neighborly way.”
CHILDREN’S GATEWAY GARDEN
Raised-bed garden boxes open up possibilities. Crops can be grown anywhere with good sun and a nearby water source. Such is the case with the Children’s Gateway Garden at Cesar E. Chavez Park. Its nine 30-inch elevated garden beds, built in 2014 on solid, easy-to-negotiate pathways, made it the first ADA-accessible garden in Long Beach.
The Children’s Gateway Garden is the brainchild of Kathleen Irvine, past President of the Willmore City Heritage Association. A certified ornamental horticulturist, Irvine has been involved with Downtown beautification and repurposing projects for many years. She and her partner Jim Danno, who built the garden boxes, are very proud of their work. “Everyone can have the pleasure of growing and enjoying fresh produce in this urban setting,” said Irvine.
There are currently some open spots in the Children’s Gateway Garden. For information on how to get some plants started, please call the park at (562) 570-8890.
1ST & ELM COMMUNITY GARDEN
Have you ever strolled through the East Village and caught a glimpse of that mysterious jungle next to the House of Hayden? That is the 1st & Elm Community Garden, which opened in 1995. It is Downtown’s first community garden.
Jimmy Brashear, a former Iowa farm boy, is the garden’s manager, supervisor, and caretaker. He rents 5 x 12-foot garden plots in the magical space, which was formerly occupied by a huge Victorian house. Brashear has managed to create the sensation of traveling to many destinations while inside the garden. There are huge banana and pomegranate trees, hidden alcoves filled with plants and quirky statues, a Monarch butterfly waystation, and a peaceful pond surrounded by chimes and hummingbird feeders.
“I love the fact that urban gardens are expanding. We need more of that,” said Brashear. “It’s a great way to get organic vegetables, which are expensive in supermarkets. It helps low-income families, and it’s a great stress release in an urban environment. It’s a win-win all the way around.”
This garden has been part of many events — Soundwalk, Buskerfest, and the Tour d’Art among them — so keep an eye out for some more public events at the garden in the future.
For inquiries about plot rentals and events, call Jimmy at (562) 233-7528.
PACIFIC & 6TH COMMUNITY GARDEN
This is another garden managed by Joe Corso, Garden Director of Long Beach Organic. It’s built on a small City lot that was leased in 2001 by Long Beach Organic founder Charles Moore. Moore also founded the nonprofit Algalita Marine Research and Education. The mural and mosaic on the north wall, by artists Steve Elicker and Joseph Giri, was inspired by the artwork of young students who had visited the tidepools for the first time.
The garden formed an alliance with its neighbor, the Park Pacific Tower senior housing apartments, and twelve of the garden plots are for residents. There are four public plots, which are currently occupied. Long Beach Organic interns keep the space beautifully maintained.
Corso pointed out that for residents, the garden provides a vital connection to nature and community and, due to the cultural diversity of the residents, “some amazing potlucks.” Learn more about the Pacific & 6th Community Garden at longbeachorganic.org.
Elliot Gonzales, active with the Long Beach sustainability community for many years, is starting up his Downtown Nursery in a vacant lot at 927 Long Beach Boulevard. This nursery will put a big emphasis on native, drought-tolerant plants.
Looking up and down Long Beach Boulevard next to the Metro Line, Gonzales envisions lots more green space, giving the community better access to community gardens and nurseries.
So far he has laid down a thick layer of wood mulch, upon which he’ll grow, display, and sell plants to the public. He has moved in some Dragon Fruit, some Firesticks Euphorbia, and many small cacti and succulents. He’ll be adding much more during this work in progress.
Gonzales gained use of the lot by offering to pay the property tax: “This is a business model that might work for the rest of Long Beach Boulevard,” he said. “This is a place to interact with nature, de-stress, and re-create the original, natural setting here, with native, drought-tolerant plants.”
It’s easy to get involved with Downtown’s urban garden community: Look for volunteer opportunities, check waiting lists, and attend public events in these and other Downtown green spaces. You might even end up following the example of a 1st and Elm gardener who takes off her shoes to get more in tune with the vibration of the Earth! Keep it green.
Sowing Seeds of Change: SowingSeedsOfChange.org
7th & Chestnut Community Garden: Visit Long Beach Organic’s website here.
Children’s Gateway Garden: Cesar Chavez Park: (562) 570-8890
1st & Elm Community Garden: Jimmy Brashear, (562) 233-7528
Pacific & 6th Community Garden: Visit Long Beach Organic’s website here.
Downtown Nursery: Elliot Gonzales, (562) 313-8746