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Encinitas Community Garden finally sprouting

Gordon Smith and Elizabeth Taylor, organizers of the Encinitas Community Garden, stand where planter boxes will be placed. After much delay, a garden groundbreaking is slated for 10 a.m. on July 11 at 441 Quail Gardens Drive.
Gordon Smith and Elizabeth Taylor, organizers of the Encinitas Community Garden, stand where planter boxes will be placed. After much delay, a garden groundbreaking is slated for 10 a.m. on July 11 at 441 Quail Gardens Drive.
( / Jared Whitlock)

Residents have been trying to start a community garden for six years. After much delay, they now have all the necessary permits to break ground.

City staff gave the final green light on July 1. With that, volunteers and Encinitas Community Garden organizers will set up planter boxes and complete other work at 10 a.m. on July 11 at the garden, 441 Quail Gardens Drive.

“It’s been a long journey, so this is great, and it will be really great when we get people out here planting,” said Gordon Smith, president of the nonprofit Encinitas Community Garden, while walking the site.

The community garden, set to debut around September, will initially have 60 wooden planter boxes, some measuring 10 feet by 10 feet and others 5 feet by 10 feet. A drip irrigation system is in place to provide water to crops inside the planters.

“We’re very conscious of the water situation,” Smith said. He then pointed to another feature: wire mesh at the bottom of planter boxes that’s intended to keep gophers out.

Smith said the mission of the garden is to teach residents how to grow organic produce, particularly those who live in apartments or don’t have gardening space. Tools will be provided, and instructors will be on hand.

“And we want people renting plots to learn from each other,” Smith said. “This will build community.”

Individuals or groups can rent planter boxes, at a cost that will be announced in the next week or two at www.encinitascommunitygarden.org. Volunteers — needed on July 11 to build the boxes and move completed ones on to the largely barren property — can email info@encinitascommunitygarden.org.

Why did it take six years for a community garden to sprout?

The Encinitas City Council in January 2009 registered its support for a community garden and tasked organizers with finding a site. In the intervening years, garden organizers formed the nonprofit and settled on the Quail Gardens site after scouting locations throughout the city. They also had to wait for the Encinitas Union School District, which owns the 10-acre property the garden is on, to finalize site plans.

Anticipating the garden was soon to break ground, the nonprofit and volunteers began assembling planter boxes. But city staff told organizers that a coastal development permit and grading permit are still necessary, which took months to obtain.

Organizers did, however, get some help from the Encinitas Planning Commission, which decided last summer that a community garden is allowed by right in the Encinitas Ranch Specific Plan, waiving a $1,600 minor-use permit.

Elizabeth Taylor, legal counsel for the nonprofit Encinitas Community Garden, said this was the city’s first community garden, making for a complicated permitting process. With the city working on an urban agriculture ordinance, she’s hopeful future community gardens will have an easier path forward.

The nonprofit is leasing the acre plot from the Encinitas Union School District, which recently launched Farm Lab on the surrounding land to give students firsthand lessons in planting, growing and cooking produce. Against that backdrop, Taylor said the community garden will fit in nicely.

She added it will also compliment the E3 Cluster, a group of six like-minded organizations in the area that formed last year to collaborate on education and health initiatives. E3 members include the Leichtag Foundation, San Dieguito Heritage Museum, San Diego Botanic Garden, Encinitas Union School District, Magdalena Ecke Family YMCA and Seacrest Village.

“It fits with what all these are groups are doing,” Taylor said.

Along the way, the nonprofit has received a number of donations and grants, including a recent $5,000 grant from the Mizel Family Foundation.

Besides volunteers, the garden is looking for additional grants and donations, as well as board members. Those interested can email info@encinitascommunitygarden.org.


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