Group hopes to plant 100 edible gardens in Ventura
By Kelly McCartney 11/20/2008
If the kitchen is the heart of a home, then a garden can surely be the heart of a community. Grow Food Party Crew believes so, and they aim to spread that gospel to the rest of Ventura this weekend with Growing Gardens of Gratitude, a citywide gardening party aimed at turning the town into an “edible oasis.”
Grow Food Party Crew is the inspiration of friends Devin Slavin and Brian Coltrin. Slavin, a Ventura native, works on permaculture projects and education with the Regenerative Design Institute. The concept of permaculture was developed in the 1970s to coalesce the idea of permanent agriculture, as well as permanent culture, into design principles that mimic natural ecologies by considering all environmental factors when planting. The Party Crew adheres to those principles when assessing an area to be planted.
“Every garden we do is different because we are using the natural energies of the site to benefit the ecosystem we are creating – the people, plants, animals and soil life and water cycle,” Slavin explains. “We map out what’s going on there – the sun paths, water flows, soil fertility, wildlife influences. We analyze human influence in terms of where people will be visiting most and what access exists to each area of the yard. We basically design it for laziness because people naturally want to conserve their own energy and don’t want to walk to the edge of the property to harvest for each meal.”
With Ventura’s climate being what Slavin calls “a gardener’s paradise,” the variety of plants that can be incorporated is vast. Always taking water conservation into account, the Party Crew integrates two types of gardening – agroforestry and intensive annual gardens. “Food forests” are planted around the edges of the yards to provide stability. The vertical stacking of low- to high-growing plants maximizes food yields while minimizing input. Annual vegetables, herbs, fruits and flowers live nearer the house because they require more access, effort and water to come to harvest.
The resulting gardens provide nourishment, not only for bellies but also for souls. In addition to the growing of food, a second component of the Grow Food Party Crew is the growing of community, particularly in the challenging economic and environmental times we currently face.
“We know what we’re up against — climate change, a transitioning economy, a food system that takes huge amounts of fossil fuel and water to produce, as well as being virtually toxic for all life in the long run,” Slavin says. “When we look at community resilience in challenging economic times, if we can meet a great deal of our needs for nourishment by ourselves and from neighboring farms, we will be able to take care of ourselves as our economy takes a new form.”
Most of the gardens planted by the Party Crew are in people’s yards with an average size of 400 square feet, which requires a few hours of assessment and design time, and from three to six hours for the actual implementation of the garden.
The party aspect usually comes into play during the planting time. That’s when the music starts up. And there’s usually a feast to go along with the fun.
“The Grow Food Party Crew is about enjoying life and living abundantly,” muses Slavin. “We don’t need to ‘fight’ to live this way. We celebrate it into being. We laugh and play, eat delicious food, dance and sing to live music, and give thanks whenever we’re inspired. People are more disconnected from nature than possibly any other time in history. But the answer is so easy and it’s common sense. It’s all about relationship. We grow food in our yards with our friends and neighbors. We get to know the cycles of life through the garden, and it teaches us how to tend the land in a regenerative manner.”
The Growing Gardens of Gratitude weekend kicks off with a concert and a weekend logistical overview on Friday, Nov. 21, at 6 p.m. in the downtown Ventura City Corps building. City Corps is joining forces with the Grow Food Party Crew to help meet the goal of planting 100 gardens over the course of two days.
E-mail Kelly McCartney at Kelly@spandadham.com
To join the Party Crew, make a donation or request a garden, visit www.myspace.com/growfoodpartycrew.