Pomona Hope

08/14 10

An Urban Garden Grows  

Monica Rodriguez, Staff Writer

Posted by Inland Valley Daily Bulletin

POMONA – A group of more than 30 elementary and middle school-aged boys and girls recently made their way around Fairplex’s Urban Garden.

The children, part of the Pomona Hope summer program, sampled passion fruit and peppermint plants and handled lemon balm and fennel, all of which grow in an area less than an acre in size in the Fairview Farms section of Fairplex.

Produce from the Urban Garden is used in preparing meals at the Sheraton Fairplex Hotel’s McKinley’s Grille and at hotel events, said Dwight Richards, vice president of operations for the Los Angeles County Fair Association.

Having such a garden isn’t a completely new idea.

“The past several years we had a garden during (the L.A. County) Fair,” Richards said.

Don DeLano, Fairplex horticulturist, talks to kids about the vegetables growing in the Urban Garden as he holds a daikon radish and purple carrots at Fairplex in Pomona. (Thomas R. Cordova/Staff Photographer)

Establishing a year-round garden was an idea that came from the growing interest in eating healthy with the help of fresh produce, he said.

But that’s not the only motivation behind the Urban Garden.

“We’re an agrarian based company,” Richards said. “So if anything, what we’re doing is going back to our roots.”

The Urban Garden serves as a model that shows visitors the kinds of crops they can grow on small pieces of land.

It was that kind of learning experience the young visitors and some of their parents were exposed to during their visit to the Urban Garden.

They walked past different types of squash, 20 kinds of heirloom tomatoes, an assortment of herbs, in addition to lettuce, carrots, egg plant and other veggies.

During their walk, the group stopped at a plant called stevia. Don DeLano, Fairplex horticulturist, invited his guests to pull a leaf from a freshly cut branch and taste it.

At first, the youths hesitated to chew on the unfamiliar leaves. Then the flavor came through and they all began to giggle and chatter.

“It’s a natural sweetener without calories,” DeLano said. “You can buy a small plant and grow it in your yard.”

All along the way DeLano gave the youths information on the fruits, vegetables and herbs and how Chef David Teig uses them.

“These are Roma-type tomatoes,” DeLano said. “They’re thick and meaty for sauces.”

After walking through the Urban Garden the children sat down for a meal that included freshly grilled vegetables, salads and peach crisp.

“It’s delicious!” said Luis Bustamonte, 11, a student at Lincoln Elementary School.

“It’s true,” chimed in Dominick Villela, 8, a student at Cortez Mathematics and Science Magnet School.
Luis said he was impressed with the entire garden.

“Everything was real life grown,” Luis said. “At the grocery store it looks not so grown by hand.”

Dominick said he saw familiar fruits and vegetables in the garden but also learned about such vegetables as black carrots.

“I didn’t think there was such a thing,” Dominick said.

Some of the children have worked in the Pomona Community Garden, organized by First Presbyterian Church of Pomona, said Emily Peine, director of Pomona Hope Community Center, which is located on the church grounds.

A conversation between the church garden’s manager, Drew Rushlow, and Jim Henwood, Fairplex’s president and chief executive officer, led to the visit, Peine said.

Through such a visit the children in the program may see what a community garden can be, she said.
“They could see what the full picture could be,” Peine said.

DeLano said the Urban Garden is still developing.

“It’s kind of an experiment in progress,” he said.

The Urban Garden doesn’t use pesticides, instead relaying on natural means to control pests, DeLano said.

Crops are evaluated in order to plan ahead and determine what to grow more of and what to scale back on, he said.

Enough produce is generated by the Urban Garden that Fairplex has been able to trade products with other restaurants and cooperatives, DeLano said.

Teig said he has been able to go through long stretches without having to purchase produce, relying only on what the Urban Garden produces.

“Some crops go in and some crops go out. Sometimes I’ll go three weeks without buying a single green,” Teig said.

What Fairplex has been able to do is not common.

“Very few restaurants or hotels can do this,” Teig said. “A lot of chefs would love to have a garden like this.”

As a parent, Teig said he’s already seen what a garden can do for children.

Parents sometimes struggle to get their children to eat new things, but that changes when children see fruits and vegetables grow.

“When I pull (a vegetable) out of the ground and they see where it comes from, it is so much easier to get kids to try things,” Teig said.

The Urban Garden is available for private gatherings and can be booked by calling the Sheraton Fairplex Hotel at 909-868-5915.

Groups interested in visiting and touring the Urban Garden can arrange a visit by calling Mark Drury at 909-868-5916.



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