The Carpinteria Garden Park is a community garden in the heart of downtown where 104 local households grow their own organic food. Many community garden members are first-time growers learning through personal experience how to successfully tend a garden without relying on chemical inputs. Organic growing requires careful attention to detail and the sensitivity to notice subtle changes in the natural world over time. These practices deeply enrich our lives outside of the garden as well.
Over and over again in my work at the Garden Park, I am fortunate to witness the transformative connections that develop between people, plants, animals and seasonal cycles once we begin to pay attention. Through my work with local school groups and young people, I understand that experiences of the natural world are especially appreciated by youngsters who often have a more intuitive grasp of our interconnectedness than adults. All people deserve opportunities to be transformed by time spent outside in connection with the other-than-human world.
Relationships to the natural world are especially valuable in a modern society where many people are separated from the processes that nourish our bodies and the surrounding environment. Most of us no longer work outside, and technology often captures our personal time. This disconnect is writ large in the current climate crisis, which humans struggle to relate to on an existential level. While it is easy to feel insignificant in the face of global changes, my experiences as a local farmer and community gardener convince me that we can all take actions to support local biodiversity and ecosystem health which have broad and resounding impact.
This year, I encourage you to tend connections in service of the wild world, in whatever way best suits your lifestyle. Focus on building relationships which are particular to place, and which recognize the value of beings beyond human experience such as the myriad remarkable plant, animal, insect, and bird species which share this dynamic coastline with us. Attention and participation are the first steps towards a healthier environmental ethic which restores and renews the life-giving systems of this complex, wondrous planet.
Perhaps you can begin by taking walks along the coastal bluffs, salt marsh interpretive trails, foothills and coastline. And take the young people in your life with you! Pay attention to the differences in these wildly diverse landscapes which are just a stone’s throw away from one another. You can use a field guide or online resources (calflora.org for plants, bugguide.net for insects, ebird.org for birds) to learn the names of a few species you see frequently. Beginning to name and recognize the diversity of life which surrounds us is one meaningful way to build relationship.
If you have the space (a sunny patio, front stoop, or yard), consider growing some of your own food as a connection to seasonal cycles and nutrition. This is an affordable option for the freshest and most delicious vegetables you can imagine. Even a small space, or several pots or containers, can grow an astonishing amount of food. If you are unsure how to begin, check the community garden’s class schedule online at carp-garden.com for beginner gardening classes this spring which are free and open to all.
If you aren’t inclined to grow your own food, perhaps you can cultivate habitat for the many plants and animals which live here but are often excluded from urban landscapes. California native plants are incredibly low maintenance, drought tolerant, and gorgeous. Las Pilitas Nursery, a native plant nursery, maintains a wonderful website as a resource for designing showy native plant gardens which are beneficial to pollinators and wildlife: laspilitas.com.
Another meaningful way to focus your resources towards local wellbeing is by supporting the farmers that make Carpinteria Valley such a treasure. Shifting food purchases towards local, and when possible organic, sources provide tangible benefits for our landscape. Supporting local farmers and farmworkers in their right to a living wage makes farming a tenable occupation, thereby ensuring that farmland is protected and preserved for future generations. Farmland is an essential buffer in the urban-rural interfaces of California’s coastal landscapes. Irrigated farmland provides less fuel for catastrophic wildfires. And farms growing a diversity of crops without the use of chemicals provide important habitat for animals, birds, and insects which suffer catastrophic loss of habitat when farms are developed.
Ease into the year with attention to the natural world. Cultivate awareness by participating in local, seasonal cycles through one of the easily accessible nature walks in Carpinteria, growing a garden, or by supporting a local farmer in doing so. Any of these actions has effects beyond our own wellbeing. These choices connect us to the other-than-human world, which is the first step towards a future that is more ecologically diverse and resilient.
Alena Steen is coordinator of the Carpinteria Garden Park, an organic community garden located at 4855 Fifth St., developed by the city’s Parks and Recreation Department. Community members rent a plot to grow their own fresh produce. The garden is also a center for public education, with classes on organic gardening, nutrition and sustainability. For a complete schedule or more information, visit carp-garden.com or follow the garden on Instagram @carp_garden.