Eat well from home, community gardens

The following editorial by Leonardo Espinoza Jr. was published in the Santa Maria Times on September 9, 2016: http://santamariatimes.com/news/opinion/editorial/commentary/looking-forward/eat-well-from-home-community-gardens/article_9247d6f6-684d-5a24-8d02-3560d7df2542.html.

I am the garden director for the Central Coast Green Team, a project of Santa Barbara County Action Network.

The All-America City of Santa Maria has always had its share of community problems like any other city. What amazed me and really caught my eye growing up was how strongly our community comes together in times of pain and chaos. One way people are coming together is by growing healthy, edible, beautiful plants, many by participating in our garden project.

When I heard about the Green Team, I went to the team’s garden and was welcomed. The garden is just south of the Elwin Mussel Senior Center and is the first garden inside the city’s community garden, accessed from Oakwood Drive.

The team was building a garden to demonstrate that you can create a beautiful garden and eat its produce, too. Thus began my nature adventure and we continue to share with you that gardening can positively impact our lives.

The team was building a garden to demonstrate that you can create a beautiful garden and eat its produce, too. Thus began my nature adventure and we continue to share with you that gardening can positively impact our lives.

The Green Team garden project was started in early 2013 and since then has been collaborating with local Plantel Nurseries to promote healthy eating as a hobby in the natural learning environment of home and community gardens. Engel & Gray has also donated lots of compost to us and other local gardeners.

With all the processed and fast-food options available, young people are missing opportunities to learn where our nutrition comes from. An important, but largely untapped, part of our nation’s struggle against unhealthy eating habits is community gardening. Unfortunately, with just a few exceptions, local school gardens either don't exist or they don't have the resources to be put to productive use.

I first joined the Green Team three years ago. Since then, Plantel Nurseries has donated tens of thousands of starter plants for us to share with Santa Maria and beyond. It has truly been a blessing to be able to work with Plantel and together we have made an impact.

The Green Team has participated in many community events, distributing free organic seedlings, educating people about growing edible plants, and recruiting volunteers. These include the monthly THRIVE events held at Santa Maria’s Veterans Hall and Santa Maria’s annual Earth Day festival. We've also tabled and shared starter plants at Pioneer Valley High School, Allan Hancock College, Saint Mary's Catholic School, and the Boys and Girls Club of Santa Maria Valley. We also passed out seedlings at the Guadalupe Ciclovia event and at the Lompoc Cooperative Festival among others.

At each event we see the excitement in peoples’ eyes as they fill up containers with free seedlings. Some of them return and report on the food they grew. Some have volunteered to help out at our demonstration garden. We have regular work parties on the last Sunday of each month from 10 a.m. to noon. This month it will be Sept. 25. We pull weeds, prune, plant new seedlings and harvest the bounty. We also give away starter plants to the participants and anyone who shows up.

Collaboratively, we provide opportunities for people to experience gardening, both at our garden and in their own yards or patios — all it takes is a pot or a can to get started. See pictures of the garden and of several of these events on our webpage at www.sbcan.org or Facebook page at facebook.com/CentralCoastGreenTeam.

To me the garden is a sacred space where one can feel completely at peace with one’s self. To others it’s both spiritual and physical therapy. Contact me if you would like to participate.

Leonardo Espinoza Jr. is garden director of Santa Barbara County Action Network’s Green Team. He can be reached at greenteam@sbcan.org. Looking Forward is a progressive look at local issues.

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Santa Barbara County Action Network
Santa Barbara County Action Network (SBCAN) works to promote social and economic justice, to preserve our environmental and agricultural resources, and to create sustainable communities.