Recent History of Long Beach Organic, Inc.

In late 2008, Long Beach Organic – which at the time operated 4 gardens – began the current period of growth and expansion, the seeds of which were planted in its largest garden, Wild Oats Community Garden (WOCG). Energetic new gardeners joined with a dedicated group of board members and volunteers to revitalize the Wild Oats Garden. Events such as Dia de los Muertos brought in community members. A Progressive Dinner Party benefit raised $4000 at a soirée at the home of gardeners Gary Ostrowski and Dennis Snyder. Gardener Claire Atkinson offered to resurrect the newsletter by providing design and layout.

Gardeners began coordinating with Food Finders and SoCal Harvest to share the excess produce being harvested. Garden activity increased allowing CA Western Arborists to bring regular deliveries of mulch to the WOCG to be processed into compost on regular community work days. To celebrate the renewal of the WOCG, the community was invited to a Summer Solstice Celebration.

There was growth and activity in smaller gardens too. In Spring of 2009, LBO formed a partnership with St. Luke’s Episcopal Church to manage its garden allowing neighborhood residents an opportunity to garden downtown. The First and Elm garden hosted the Art Start Murals fundraiser to benefit a Long Beach Bar Association’s program called Short Stop. The program’s goal is to keep at-risk youth out of prison.

Work started on the 24-plot Wrigley Village Community Garden in September of 2012. The garden haven in the 2000 block of Pacific Ave. was leased to LBO by owner Annette LaBarca and received donated materials via the LB Neighborhood Leadership Program’s Waves 4 Change.

Following the success of the private landowner partnership with the Wrigley Garden, the Francisco del los Santos family Charlie Moore, Founder, LBO offered to lease a vacant lot to Long Beach Organic. Off of South Street, the “South 40” became LBO’s second largest garden – It quickly filled with neighborhood families. The garden became a popular stop on the LBO’s signature fundraiser, a Garden Tour and Wine Tasting which debuted in summer of 2012. The South 40 has also played host to LBO’s first two Oktoberfest celebrations.

Donations of labor helped improve the gardens – Temple Israel held a volunteer day at WOCG. Tree people donated 50 trees to various gardens allowing orchards to be planted. The Pond Guys donated and built a beautiful water feature at WOCG.

Gardens expanded as sites of education and training. Mike Zeke of Jordan High School ran both a school year project teaching construction to students at the ACE Academy and later expanded his role supervising a paid summer training program through Work Force Development.

In winter of 2010, Wild Oats Community Garden was temporarily closed to make way for the Termino Drain Project – a long awaited flood control infrastructure improvement. Even while closed, the waiting list in the area continued to grow.

Though it’s largest garden was closed, 2011 stayed busy – existing gardens refreshed and new gardens continued to grow. One of Long Beach Organic’s first gardens Pacific and 6th underwent a revitalization – beds were improved, a shade structure built, and a fanciful caterpillar sculpture was added.

In the spring, a unique opportunity for a new garden presented itself. North Long Beach landowners, Lynnette and Bill Tholkes offered their large front yard, next to the family stables to be a garden. The manure enriched soil was soon growing giant greens and became home to locals as well as some displaced Wild Oats Gardeners. In summer, the Molina family, donated a westside city parcel to Long Beach Parks and Recreation department to be used as a community garden. Long Beach Organic was chosen to design, build and operate the garden. The Mary Molina Garden, named for the family matriarch, was soon filled. Mike Zeke’s ACE Academy created a central pergola in what quickly became a lush garden where once there had been a weed and trash filled empty lot.

Through a video contest conducted by Organic Gardening Magazine, gardeners and supporters helped LBO win a grant from DeLoach Winery – the $4000 along with $10,000 from Supervisor Don Knabe’s office helped the organizations largest garden be reborn better than before. The garden formerly known as Wild Oats was reopened in Spring of 2012. Renamed by a vote of the gardeners Zaferia Community Junction Garden (in honor of the street car line and neighborhoods’ historic name) the sweat of gardeners and community volunteers soon had not only beds built, but a new shed and office, a grape arbor and pergola, and walkway seating.

The year closed with another lease for the newest garden in the heart of downtown – 7th and Chestnut – thanks to property owner Eric Bueno who had seen the success of the other downtown gardens. In just over a year, the plans and designs were approved, LBO obtained grants to build the garden and decorative iron fence. In Spring of 2014 the garden hosted a neighborhood beer garden event jointly with a neighboring community garden called, Chestnut Lot, run by Foodscapes just a stones throw down the street.

LBO’s board, now a full nine members, looks forward to growing more gardens and cultivating more community partnerships in the years ahead.

Our Beginnings

Long Beach Organic, Inc. (LBO) was formed on December 14, 1994 by Charles Moore. While the organization today is mostly associated with organic community gardens, its original conception was part of a much broader vision. By the early 90s, Moore, a long time environmentalist had become dismayed by the increasing pollution in waters surrounding the city. His childhood was spent swimming in the channels and bays of Alamitos Bay. As a very young child, he, like many other mid-century Long Beach youth, learned to swim in the Colorado Lagoon. Moore remembers the waters of Colorado Lagoon, located just down the street from the family home, were once safe enough for the Red Cross to hold swimming classes. As the years passed he watched the water in the lagoon become so filthy that it was rarely swim able. It saddened him that contemporary youth would never know the clean ocean he so loved. He decided to take action.

Moore applied to Secretary of State for nonprofit status for two organizations that December day, LBO and Algalita Marine Research Foundation. AMRF was to study the effects of run-off in the ocean and Long Beach Organic was to address ocean pollution by reducing run-off from land. He was aware of how the hard urban surfaces of a city landscape created this water pollution and how soft soils and planted land could act as a cleansing sponge for run-off water. He combined this knowledge with years of experience in organic gardening, which started in 1974 after he read The Ruth Stout No-Work Garden Book: Secrets of the Famous Year-Round Mulch Method, and a dedication to education and social justice. The result was a novel “urban agriculture helps save the ocean” model.

The initial project of LBO was to found a garden in the downtown area. First Elm Garden on the property of private landowner Helen Woo continues to be a vibrant independent community garden to this day. The next project involved working with property owners on Signal Hill to bioremediate the oil-tarnished soils with mulching. As the soil healed, the organization partnered with the Cambodian Health Project to remediate a public health ill. This immigrant community suffered health problems from lack of exercise and poor nutrition. A second urban garden was formed and eventually over 50 Cambodian families farmed plots. The property was lost to eminent domain – a private cement plant now covers the property, moved there to free up space for another auto dealership. Next the tiny Pacific 6th Garden was founded. Pacific 6th is still a vital LBO garden today.

Many lessons were learned during this time, perhaps the most valuable was that the organization needed to ensure the work of building a garden was not lost when a landowner changed course. Specifically the organization invested time energy and funds to build a garden on a vacant lot on Anaheim east of Cherry Avenue. Just before the garden was ready to open, the landowner had an offer on his property he couldn’t refuse and sold the site just as it was ready to open as a garden. Since that time, LBO has made it a policy not to lease property for less than 2 years.

In the meantime, the organization approached and worked with other property owners as advisors on how to start gardens on vacant land. Some of these included a church garden at Palos Verdes and Willow and a garden at Hill and Atlantic. The latter property later became a Habitat for Humanity home. LBO also worked with youth education of Campfire girls and boys on gardening.

When the natural foods store, Wild Oats, came to town, LBO saw an opportunity to do a larger project. The store approached LBO with an offer of funding to start a large community garden on the old Pacific Railway line just above 10th on Grand St. With funds available, the work of community organizing and recruiting gardeners was begun. With gardeners recruited, a core group went to work building the garden from scratch by hand spreading mulch and building beds. Within a year the garden bustled with urban farmers – eventually over 70 families tilled the 90 plots of the garden known as Wild Oats Community Garden.

In addition to founding community gardens and educating on gardening, other early projects and accomplishments of LBO included: reviving the Long Beach food co-op by bringing in organic produce from outside farms as well as growing produce locally on private land and working on wetlands education. With its sister organization, AMRF, LBO held several celebrity-hosted Coast and Ocean Connection educational events at the Long Beach Museum of Art and the Cabrillo Aquarium drawing regional attention; and participated in local wetlands recovery projects by growing native plants for what was planned to be an urban farm and park at Willow Springs Gulch. Throughout those early years, LBO also grew and offered for wholesale, native plants as well as tropical and temperate fruit trees at the organization’s small but abundant nursery on Gladys Ave.

During this period AMRF, the other non-profit Moore founded, grew into an internationally known organization for its work documenting the quantity and effects of plastic pollution in the ocean and Moore became a renowned researcher and sought-after speaker on this subject. While he no longer participates in the day to day operations of LBO, he continues to provide advice and support as founder. LBO now operates eight gardens and has more in the works. Moore is proud of LBO’s success in growing of gardens – the seeds of which he planted that December back in 1994.