Auto shops crowd the corner of University Avenue and 39th Street in City Heights, two blocks from Interstate 15. Down the alley behind Valvoline Instant Oil Change, past densely-packed apartments and the wide asphalt lot of Standard Plumbing and Industrial Supply, is an unexpected sight. Green plants grow riotous, pushing through the gaps in a chain-link fence.
A hand-painted sign reads: “The Revolutionary Grower’s Garden.” A breeze clinks another sign against the fence: “Everyone’s welcome here.”
The plumbing store owners lend the lot — once empty and overgrown with weeds — to the Black Panther Party of San Diego. Over the past six years, volunteer gardeners coaxed life from nearly every inch. The caretakers now squeeze between tightly-packed beds and towers of pots as they work together to tend them.
Now, in October, the kale is going strong. Potatoes are sprouting. Flowers and squash, different kinds of peppers, eggplants and herbs spring from the same beds together.
It’s one of many ways the garden differs from large-scale agriculture, which usually grows one crop on vast tracts of land, depleting the soil of nutrients.
On the surface, they are watering, creating compost from their food scraps, seeding and harvesting. Whether volunteers know it or not, they are also making the neighborhood more resilient to climate change, which is expected to overburden lower-income communities of color like City Heights.
They call it a teaching garden. The group works together to share the labor of tending to it and the knowledge needed. Volunteers can — and