Local hero of the week: Community garden manager taps into the hidden potential of Compton’s soil
When most people imagine the landscape of Compton, they probably think of the concrete and the buildings on every block.
They’re not wrong, says Jonathan Fajardo, who grew up here.
“Truly there is an incredible shortage of green space, let alone community gardens,” he said.
But as cultural and community director of Compton Community Gardenhe strives to counteract this by showcasing the town’s agricultural heritage – his rich cultural history of urban farms and greenery.
The area was a hub for black farming families who migrated from the rural South in the 1950s. Although many families have left, the area retains its agricultural roots with barns and horse ranches and sections like Richland Farms.
The Compton Community Garden is an “all-organic community effort to directly address ecological and social inequities in Compton and beyond,” Fajardo said.
It’s a natural space, he says, where community members can learn to grow food, teach others, or just breathe. The garden grows everything from fresh chocolate mint, sage and watermelon to blueberries, tomatoes and summer greens from the vine.
“I think being in the garden is just a cathartic experience,” Fajardo said. “It’s kind of cosmic in the sense that by gardening you feed the mind, feed the body, feed the body, the soul. And even on a spiritual level, it’s just become a space for practice of meditation.
But herbs and vegetables aren’t the only things growing in the garden. During the labor-intensive work of mixing mulch and turning beds, community members interact and relationships flourish.
“Friendships…business ideas, all kinds of amazing things just happened on these community volunteer days,” Fajardo said. “Just because people from different cultures and from different backgrounds, socio-economic and otherwise, have just come together.”
Farjardo is also interested in Indigenous studies and how individuals can move from a transactional, market-based economy to a “shared way of life that values human-to-human relationships.”,” he said.
“So the community garden felt like a meeting point for all these ideas and a place where you could practice direct democracy,” he said. “And also at a basic level where I could just learn how to grow food, which I think is a skill that every human being should have, because that’s the resource that really matters.”
As a child, Fajardo saw many community gardens that required high payment in order to get a plot to grow food. It was a barrier to entry for him.
It wasn’t until he was skating around Long Beach a few years ago that he saw a community garden pop up where an old motel used to be.
“And I kind of stuck my head in there and there was this amazing retired neurosurgeon named Dr. Sheridan Ross, and he had developed this community garden. And I was intrigued,” he said.
Ross is a master gardener and founder of 16 community gardens. It was under her leadership that he saw a more accessible model of community gardens. The garden offers free gardening classes and even guided meditations.
Fajardo also makes sure to honor the Gabrielino-Tongva people who farmed the land before colonization and currently continue to preserve the land.
It is this indigenous, black and brown farming heritage that Fajardo hopes to pass on to young people who enter the garden.
“What’s most exciting is that it’s young people who are involved and connecting culture and ecology and different perspectives and backgrounds, all in this one safe space,” he said.
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