The G.I.F.T. Garden in Ventura

Besides teaching gardening techniques Marco would like to build a stage and see community events happen there.

by Jill Forman

The givers of life grow food from the Earth.” Those words are from Marco Arroyo, a native Venturan with a dream. Several of them, actually.

A musician, founding member of the local band Herbal Rootz, he is also trying to bring a garden back to life. His vision includes food, education, community togetherness, activism, beauty, music and poetry. He calls it the G.I.F.T. Garden: Growing in Faith Together.

This is how it happened. He lives downtown, and works as a grocery store supervisor on the East side of town. Every day, he drove along Poli, past E.P Foster Library and the vacant slope in back of it. It was nothing but weeds, but he could see where someone had tried to make a garden there. It was such a waste of land and it really bothered him.

About three months ago, he just pulled over and started cleaning the site. He pulled weeds, raked, dug up earth. Friends and family joined him, and a recognizable garden started to take shape.

He assumed it was city-owned, and went to City Hall to get authorization for his work. Turns out its private land; he was able to contact the owner and get permission to revamp the space. He has no funding, just community goodwill at this point. People have donated tools, plants and labor. A construction company gave him a load of wood.

Marco’s interest in gardening started at Sheridan Way Elementary School, when his class worked on the garden at West Park. “Food keeps growing,” he says, and there is no reason for people to go hungry. He wants his garden to be a source of learning for kids, hands-on, both to grow food and teach them to live closer to the earth and to share nature’s gifts.

The band, which he described as roots/rock/reggae and his nephew (with a chuckle) calls “heavy roots,” is made up of his family and friends. They have a history of food donations, giving pumpkins to the E.P. Foster pumpkin drive. The school had to cease funding for the drive, so Herbal Rootz started asking audiences to bring pumpkins for the school as the price of admission to band events.

Marco has researched the site, and discovered the story of Theodosia Burr Shepherd who was the first woman to hybridize flowers and had a very prosperous seed company based in Ventura. Burr was called the “Flower Wizard of California” and is credited with founding California’s seed industry. Susan B. Anthony visited; she was compared to Luther Burbank. Another garden had been planted there in her honor a few years ago, and had harvested the community, but is no longer active.

The garden, being on a slope, is being formed with the Aztec style of farming; watering in a pyramid effect, trickling down from one bed to another. There is a bee hive nearby, and pollinator-friendly plants. Besides teaching gardening techniques, he would like to build a stage and see community events happen there: speakers, music, poetry, activism; his vision is broad.

The band’s Facebook page will soon have a Pay Pal link to contribute to the G.I.F.T. garden. Donations of plants, gardening supplies, tools etc. are welcome. Some grant writers would be handy too. Marco can be reached at 651-6056, or just stop by if you see someone working. Best of all, get out and start digging!

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