The Pacific Beach Community Garden — complete with 55 cultivated plots — has been blooming largely under the radar at Shasta and Roosevelt streets in Crown Point.
Nearby residents, who don’t have room to garden at their own homes have waited up to two years for a chance to till the soil at the community garden. Though vegetables — including tomatoes, squash, zucchini, beans, peppers and chard — are the biggest crops, flowers share many of the 15-foot-by-20-foot and half-size plots.
Ken Hughes, the garden coordinator who knew only the rudiments of the hobby before he joined the group, has been working his soil for four years.
“This is sort of like my backyard,” Hughes said.
His diet has improved since he joined, he said, adding that most of the gardeners grow the same crops in different quantities.
The land is owned by The Arc of San Diego, which provides services to children and adults with disabilities and owns a group-living home in the neighborhood.
As for why the organization donated the land for gardening instead of selling it or turning it into housing, Anthony DeSalis, executive vice president and CEO of The Arc of San Diego, said, “As a member of the Pacific Beach community, The Arc of San Diego is proud to offer residents, including those with disabilities, the opportunity to use this land for gardening. Our consumers have greatly enjoyed being able to utilize the space and be part of the community through the Pacific Beach Community Garden.”
Arc client Anton Parrish said he is thrilled with what he’s learned since planting his first seeds in January in the organization’s independent-living plot.
“There’s always a new experience,” said Parrish, who is one of eight regulars at the plot. “I miss it when I’m not here.”
According to Michael Mather, the organization’s independent-living coordinator, “We’re all about working in the community and becoming part of it, so this is perfect … This is a good outdoor activity for independence, responsibility and compassion.”
The independent-living gardeners donate their entire crop to the San Diego Food Bank. The seeds are donated to The Arc San Diego by the Seed Exchange.
Group-home residents — who have their own plot — use their produce themselves.
“We’re trying to make their menu healthier,” Mather said.
Apartment dweller and graphic designer Kathleen Wise, one of the longest-standing garden members, said she joined in 1978 when the original garden was at a different location. After dropping out in the 1990s, she returned to the land about seven years ago.
“I grow different things every year,” said Wise. “Now, I’m into heirloom seeds, including tomatoes and cucumbers.”
She teams up with adjacent gardener “Fred Junior,” so the two don’t duplicate plantings “and end up with 12 broccoli” plants. After two hip replacements, Junior said he likes “the exercise and coming out and getting dirty.”
David O’Leary, a hydrologist, and his wife, Lindsey Constance, a special-education teacher, also enjoy digging in the dirt.
“I like it mostly for composting,” Constance said. “We try to be green.”
The couple even captures the warming water in their bath to use for flushing the toilet and watering houseplants.
“I talk to my mom in Colorado and she says it’s snowing, and here I’m worried about my tomato crop,” O’Leary said. “In another couple of months, we will be giving tomatoes away.”
Members pay $70 in annual dues and their plots are inspected monthly to ensure they’re complying with the rules. Everyone must use at least 75 percent of their allotted space. And they can’t plant anything that “migrates” and blocks pathways and is difficult to dig up, like sage, mint and some berries. These plants are allowed only in pots “so members can take them if they leave and the plants won’t be someone else’s headache,” Hughes said.
New members, who start out with half-size plots, are on probation for three months. Hughes said the waiting list of about 30 people is closed now, although it might open again during the summer. By then, he hopes the group will have its own website.