By Gail Field
Under a sunny afternoon sky, seven children crouch between the kale and Swiss chard, looking for aphids on the green leaves. Gerardo Gallegos smiles as his eyes scan the community garden, seeing everything. Nearby, white bunnies prick up their ears and chickens fluff their feathers.
The instructor, Chris Massa, coaches the kids. “Look closely.” he says. “We’ll hose off the aphids to dislodge them and keep them away from the plants.” One boy takes charge of the hose. Another opens the leaves. Still another peers into the cage to watch the white rabbits.
Gallegos, the founder of Kids Garden Brigade, has designed the program to show kids how to grow their own vegetables organically. He hopes that the children will take what they learn in the program and create gardens in their own yards, to be able to help feed their families, and even have enough left over to sell. Gallegos has a clear vision for the community garden. “Everything we do here allows us to grow food that is good for you, just like nature intended. As it was in the beginning, we use plants and processes coexisting naturally. The technical word is ‘permaculture,’ combining the best of edible gardening and natural landscaping. That’s where we’re going.” This vision includes plans for a new agroponic system that will feed water into a pond where fish and vegetable plants coexist.
The kids are guided in the process guided by Massa, an instructor in organic gardening and agriculture, formerly with the Food Corps. At the Kids Garden Brigade on Ventura Avenue, he shows the kids how to grow kale, Swiss chard, broccoli, cauliflower, onions, spinach, Chinese cabbage, and more.
The garden floor is topped with redwood chips that hold in the moisture to sustain the plants, requiring less watering. They also prevent growth of weeds. The carpet of rich black soil below holds the water to nourish the vegetables that the children cultivate.
The office area, still under development, is a converted shipping container donated and refurbished by the Ventura-based Porta Stor, who created the practical and comfortable office by adding insulation dry wall, windows and a recycled wood floor.
Local kids gather once a week for the educational program, and on one Saturday a month, parents and groups are welcome to participate. Gallegos’ vision for the Kid’s Garden Brigade comes from his experience as a boy growing up in Ventura. “This was a tough neighborhood then,” he says. “My friends got into gangs and drugs. Some ended up in jail. I was fortunate to avoid this kind of life, but if those kids had had something like this garden—a place where they could learn something useful and important, they could have avoided that hard life. I want my kids to grow up with a sense of sharing and a commitment to their community.”
For more information on the Kids Garden Brigade, call 500-3028.
Gerardo Gallegos, Kids Garden Brigade