By Barbara Zaragoza / South Bay Compass
The Tijuana River Valley (TRV) was once filled with vegetable farms, dairies and ranches. As a matter of fact, the famous horses Trigger and Seabiscuit were boarded here. Today, many ranches still pepper the TRV. You can take horse rides out to the beach or buy vegetables at Suzie’s farm stand on weekends. Along the road in this sleepy area, the Tijuana River Valley Community Garden also rents plots to local residents. It’s goal is simple: to promote healthy and fresh grown produce in a diverse community environment. I received a tour from Ann Baldridge from the Resource Conservation District (RCD) who explained the details.
History Of What Existed Before The Community Garden
A woman by the name of Effie May likely owned this land, which totaled 300 acres back in the early 1900’s. Here’s a 1995 San Diego Union-Tribune article provided to me by Steve Schoenherr, President of the South Bay Historical Society:
“Two years ago, raging flood waters from the normally placid Tijuana River swept through the 5,000-acre Tijuana River Valley, crumbling sections of roads, inundating homes and fields, and causing an estimated $25 million in damage to public and private property. The Effie May organic farming operation on Hollister Street was wiped out when carefully tended acreage was buried under at least four feet of river sand. The largest of San Diego County’s estimated 50 organic farms, it once boasted of more than $2 million a year in sales. On its 300 acres, the organic operation produced such market staples as lettuce, broccoli, tomatoes, beets, kale, green beans, radishes, parsley, onions and leeks. Effie May Morton, owner of Effie May Inc., sued San Diego County, the city of San Diego and a neighboring property owner for the flood damages and shifted the focus of her operation to a herb farm in Alpine. The South Bay farm was on land leased from San Diego County.” (San Diego Union-Tribune, January 21, 1995.)
The property is still owned by the County of San Diego. The intent of the garden was to preserve some of the TRV’s farming history, so the County turned this particular area along Hollister Street and Sunset Avenue into a community garden that exists today. Of course, the County itself isn’t in the business of running gardens, so when the garden opened in 2002, the County turned over management to the Resource Conservation District (RCD).
Resource Conversation District of Greater San Diego County
The Resource Conservation District of Greater San Diego County, Baldrige explains, is a not-for-profit, quasi-governmental organization that is independent and non-regulatory. There are 95 resource conservation districts across the whole state of California and three in San Diego County. Each RCD is charged with doing environmental conservation projects that meet the need of the local community. RCD’s are very diverse in terms of what work they do and how they are funded.
Ann Baldridge’s work centers on watershed education, going into schools to talk about pollution from storm drains, starting school gardens and wildfire prevention, including working with individual homeowners to trim their brush. The community garden is just one of their projects.
The County funds a bit of the garden and the RCD also receives money for upkeep through rents. The garden is part of the Tijuana River Valley Regional Park and the RCD works closely with the Ranger Team.
The community garden prides itself, among other gems, on its pollinator garden, which consists of native plants specifically intended to attract beneficial insects. (The pollinators help fruits and vegetables grow.) The community garden also is ever evolving. In the pollinator garden, the RCD hopes to add more items that will draw insects, including ever more flowering plants and milkweed–the host plant for monarch butterflies.
Baldridge explains that the community garden began with 90 plots and then expanded to 136. When the garden started, there wasn’t quite the demand, so the RCD rented out multiple plots. Over time, however, its popularity grew and now the RCD has limits of one plot per family.
The plots are 30 feet by 30 feet and cost $125.00 per year. Because the South Bay is so diverse, the community members come from many different countries; the vegetables they grown reflect their diversity. About ten to twelve Hmong gardeners rent plots as well as many families whose first language is Spanish. Walking by the budding produce, you’ll see nopales, beans and Laotian cucumbers. Tomatoes are also popular along with dwarf bananas and papaya trees.
The Lack of Funds For The Tijuana River Valley Community Garden
Here’s the rub: there’s a waiting list of 150 people. The community garden is extremely popular and the good news is that open land lies adjacent to the garden that could be used for further expansion. The bad news: expansion costs money and the RCD would need at least $50,000 to install the water system and fencing needed to create the new plots. So far, monies aren’t available for that.
What’s The Importance Of Community Gardens?
There’s been interesting research done on the importance of community gardens. Detroit was the first city in the United States to create urban gardens during the 1890s. The Canal Winchester Times has an article about the history of community gardens and the website Community of Gardens explains, “Today’s community gardens are important places in cities across the United States. They can help to revitalize neighborhoods affected by urban decline, build a sense of community, grow healthy food, teach environmental education, and create a sense of place.”
Community gardens have numerous physical and psychological health benefits. They also provide a greater sense of belonging and even a catalyst for friendships. To find out more about the Tijuana River Valley Community Garden, click here.