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Ontario Community Garden Offers Hope and Health to Neighborhood in Need

May 24, 2016 |

Photo Courtesy of Huerta del Valle Community Garden.

Photo Courtesy of Huerta del Valle Community Garden.

Huerta del Valle Community Garden is a thriving community garden that offers hope and a source of fresh, healthy produce to residents of an Ontario neighborhood struggling with high concentrations of poverty, obesity and food access.

The garden took shape in 2010 when former Pitzer student Morgan Bennett organized local community members to create a garden on the site of a former elementary school. Today, 62 area families have plots in the garden and often sell the wide variety produce that they grow to community members.

Arthur Levine, who currently works as farm manager at Huerta del Valle Community Garden, would like to see the community garden model that has been established here replicated.

“Our interest would be to see that the whole city has gardens like this one,” says Levine. “We want to see one garden every mile. Each garden would be part of everyone’s life in some way.”

Levine also operates a small commercial farm at Huerta del Valle on which three members of the community work in exchange for a portion of the proceeds garnered from sales at farmers’ markets and to local area restaurants. Levine says the commercial farm functions not only to provide operating income to the community garden if and when the grant money runs out, but also as a vehicle to employ people from the neighborhood who want to learn farming.

But, perhaps most importantly, Levine sees the garden as a way to introduce healthy eating habits into a poverty-stricken neighborhood.

He points to the example of Maria Teresa Alonso. She lives in the neighborhood near Huerta del Valle Community Garden and had been encouraged by a doctor to feed her family better food.

Alonso became involved in the garden through a “Spanish in the Community” language mentorship program for Pitzer students in which local women were teaching Spanish to the students. But the relationship went both ways. As Alonso was supporting students learning Spanish, students also supported Alonso, and other women like her, by putting ideas about growing better food in the garden into action.

Now Alonso is executive director of the nonprofit community garden organization supporting Huerta del Valle Community.

The garden strongly emphasizes community engagement, says Levine. A community member serves as an elected garden manager and is responsible for overseeing what happens in the garden, and an additional eight community members serve as garden leaders. They are responsible for opening the garden one day per week and stay there till it closes.  A farm and garden steering committee is open to the community and meets every Monday.

“Everything is decided there,” says Levine, “workdays, garden organization, organizing volunteers, events we might have.”

Huerta del Valle Community Garden is at 831 Belmont St. in Ontario, California. The garden has a blog with instructions for listening to a spring 2016 interview with Alonso and Levine (in Spanish and English) about Huerta del Valle Community Garden.

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