In the LA County City of El Monte sits a small plot of land tucked between a dusty fast food chain and small suburban homes and apartments. A decade ago, residents and community activists came together to create the city’s first and only community garden at this very site, and the La Madera Community Garden continues to thrive ten years later. Currently over 30 families, many of them with Asian or Latin American roots, cultivate plots in the garden under the leadership of the volunteer Garden Manager, Carmen Macias.
A diversity of languages, cultural techniques and growing practices from across the world converge at this 17,000 square foot site, owned by a generous private landowner who leases the land for a nominal fee.
Over the years, interest in La Madera ebbed and flowed, depending on who worked the soil. For a while, admitted longtime volunteer Leo Nava, there were so many overgrown weeds that “it looked like a jungle.”
About four years ago, a new generation of leaders stepped up. Right now, La Madera’s 37 plots burst with winter’s bounty: fat fava beans, bumpy cauliflowers, huge heads of lettuce, and crimson-red beets with dark-green leaves that make the veggies look like edible traffic signals.
“My father told me growing crops is like love,” Lucia Nuñez said as she gave me a tour. The 49-year-old Michoacán native manages volunteer workdays. “Water them so they continue to flower. Give and accept. And always pay attention to what’s happening — because if you don’t, it can quickly go away.”
Nuñez and others are now planning for a fruitful future that never quite existed before: A farmers market. More community gardens across El Monte, one of the most park-poor cities in Los Angeles County. Even a campaign to buy the land on which La Madera sits from the kind owner who currently allows them to lease the quarter-acre for free. What gives everyone so much hope?
Read more about the partnership between Small Axe Peppers and La Madera Community Garden in this LA Times profile here.
Also, directly support La Madera Community Garden with your next purchase of the Los Angeles Hot Sauce whose peppers are sourced in their garden. You can purchase via the link below: