The gardeners of Beach Flats sometimes may seem invisible. They mostly work long hours for low wages during the week, only seeing each other in the late evening or on weekends. This week, with their gathering place at risk of closure, they came together to tell their story directly to the people of Santa Cruz.
An open letter to Santa Cruz from gardeners of Beach Flats, originally published in the Santa Cruz Sentinel, February 21, 2016
This garden is the only green area in the Beach Flats. We always come here with our friends. We enjoy the camaraderie. It is a place where we teach the younger generation how to live, how to grow corn and beans, to focus on something positive and not spend their time using drugs and hurting society, so they grow healthy and strong, with good values. Many people bring their children to watch us plant, to see how it is done, how to grow chayote, nopales, and traditional corn, beans and squash together. Classes from Delaveaga, Gault, Bayview and Monarch schools visit, too. This space is here to help children and farmers come together in a garden. Many tourists come here and ask if they can go through and look at our garden. We even have visitors from around the world come to see what we are doing here. The garden supporters who are helping us also benefit the Seaside company as much as us gardeners. The company does not come here to listen to what we want. They do not come by to spend time with us.
It seems unjust to us that the company wants to take away half the garden. Some of us have been planting in this garden for 18, 20, and even 25 years. It makes us so sad. It is too much to take in. You leave work at the end of the day and you come here, where there are flowers and corn, where children get along, to relax. Changing that half would destroy the view of the garden from the river, too. The connection between the river and the garden wouldn’t be visible any more.
What we grow here helps us a lot; we eat better. For example, César has tomatillos in the freezer throughout the year that grew in the garden. Our home-grown “milpa” tomatoes taste better than the enormous store-bought tomatoes that are all water. People from the neighborhood come by the garden to get cilantro, nopales and chayote. When Angelina leaves work, she goes to the garden with her daughters. While she harvests or plants the kids have room to play outdoors. Many of our houses have no space for kids to play. Angelina’s daughters get particularly excited because they love to help plant and to harvest what they have grown. They love the flavors of all the vegetables. Squash is one of the most valuable vegetables that the garden produces, because you can eat it in so many different dishes. It produces daily so it saves a lot of money. We can eat it throughout the harvest season. Angelina makes squash pupusas, squash soup, squash quesadillas, squash purée, squash with rice, grilled squash, and roasted squash, and those are just a few examples. If we lost the garden, we would have to spend more money on food.
Angelina’s plot is in the part of the garden the Seaside company wants to take back. We do not know if she will be able to grow everything she has planted before in the “new” garden that the Seaside company wants to leave us, because it would be smaller. Rather than take away garden space, we actually need more room, because there are many more people who want to plant here. We would like everyone to have a place in the garden. The smaller garden will not have room for everyone to plant what we have planted before. We just want to continue with what we have always known here.
We would like to work with the city and the Seaside company to see what we can do to save the entire garden.
—Emilio Martinez Castañeda, retired restaurant worker, 42-year Santa Cruz resident*
—Leonardo Galván, restaurant worker, 32-year Santa Cruz resident**
—Cesar A. Marín, construction worker, 20-year Santa Cruz resident***
—Angelina Morales, house cleaner, 12-year Santa Cruz resident****
—Samuel López, construction worker, 18-year Santa Cruz resident**
—Francisco Rincón, restaurant worker, 19-year Santa Cruz resident**
—Angel Reyes, construction worker, 18-year Santa Cruz resident****