In the early 1990s, residents of the Beach Flats organized to address community concerns and in the process transformed their neighborhood that had been largely overlooked and neglected by both landlords and city planners. They painted murals, advocated for the development of community programming and created a community garden. Some community advocates recall this as a time of neighborhood self-organization to create a safer, healthier place to live in their predominantly Latino community. Don Emilio recalls moving to the neighborhood in the 1980s and described the threats and raids from la migra before the City Council passed a resolution declaring Santa Cruz a Sanctuary City in 1985, and now understands the garden as a place of peace after many years of difficulties.
Starting in 1993 a neighborhood group of women, UCSC graduate Gia Grant and community activist Marciano Cruz, and others cleared a lot that was used as a dumping ground for several years. After the clearing, community youth and residents built all the original garden fencing, signs, greenhouse, storage and benches under the lead of Roberto Guzman, a carpenter who lived next to the garden.
The garden is built. (Photos by Gia Grant)
Since then, Gardeners have managed the garden in their own way, not like other gardens in Santa Cruz. Elders play a strong role especially in the management of the common areas. Along paths, in the seating area, and in little open spaces here and there, gardeners together grow seedlings, plant cempasuchitl, tend gladiolas, etc. Together the gardeners keep up the pathways and gathering areas with the chairs they’ve collected from around town. One of the original gardeners, Don Domingo, kept the pathways swept inside the garden and all around its perimeter, cleaning the sidewalks and streets for decades. Within the plots as well, the relationship to the space isn’t as simple as a plot per person relationship. Gardeners frequently help each other take care of each others’ plots and grow a variety of items across the garden that could be shared with gardeners and the community. In some cases, gardeners work plots collectively with others who aren’t officially on the city’s list. The garden also has a larger purpose as a community gathering area, serving more community members than just those with plots. On the weekends it’s common to see birthday parties, a Friday free food give-away, movie screenings, and other social events.
But the garden hasn’t always been safe. In 2008 the city announced plans to return the garden to the Seaside company citing lack of resources for its maintenance despite the fact that the gardeners themselves provided all the maintenance labor. Garrdners and supportive community members organized together and the garden was kept open. In fact the garden grew that year, incorporating an adjacent vacant lot into production. Then again in 2015, the land security of the garden was threatened, this time because the Seaside Company wanted to use the land for storage. Read more about the effort to save the garden at our Save the Garden page, this City on a Hill article, or this Santa Cruz IMC article.
Photos starting from top left:
1) Labor leader Dolores Huerta visits the garden to speak in support of the gardeners’ efforts in November 2015 (Photo by: Jasper Lyons, City on a Hill Press)
2) Youth in the Corre La Voz Program photograph the orange cempasúchil (Mexican marigold), the flower of Día de los Muertos, that gardeners grow for neighbors to put on their ofrendas (altars). (Photo by: Youth in Corre La Voz coming to visit the garden in Fall 2016)
3) Over 150 BFCG gardeners and community members in solidarity march to the city council to resist the 2/3rds compromise lease. (Photo by: Bradley Allen)
4) Sign dated March 13, 2013 from the garden reading “Gardeners, I am very sorry to let you know that we are not going to be able plant the community garden. We will return to the garden at the end of the month. I need each of you to speak with me about making arrangements to return your keyand talk about the follow up plan. Get in touch with Reyna at [phone number]. Sincerely, Reyna Ruiz” (Photo from https://www.indybay.org/uploads/2008/03/24/bfgarden_notice.jpg)
5) Nati enjoying a garden corn cooked on the grill at a Festival de Maiz hosted at the garden in late summer 2015. (Photo by: Nopal Media)