By Johnny Flores,
Coachella, Calif. – When Hilda Hinojosa’s baby has colic, all she has to do is walk across the parking lot and pick some manzanilla from among the various vegetables, fruits and herbs at Las Casas Apartments Community Garden.
She uses the herb, also known as chamomile, to soothe four-month-old Berenice to sleep.
“I don’t drive, so it’s much easier to come to the garden,” said Hinojosa in Spanish. “It would take me longer to get to the store, and my little girl would still be crying.”
Hinojosa has been planting in the community garden ever since moving to Las Casas eight years ago. During that time, she has developed a bond with her fellow community gardeners. The 20 or so active participants tend to their individual crops and share their bounty with one another. Because many are migrant farmworkers, the community gardeners look after each other’s crops when some leave the area to follow the seasonal harvesting work. One active gardener, Jesus Sandoval, even devised an irrigation system that makes the gardening easier for everyone.
Residents who don’t participate in the community gardens are still welcome to pick from them.
“I share my cilantro with everyone,” said Hinojosa, who plants hierba buena (spearmint), onions, nopales, (cactus) and cilantro. She makes salsa from the peppers and tomatoes grown by her neighbors.
Beatriz Gonzalez, who has also been an active community gardener at Las Casas for eight years, shares her corn, radishes, and strawberries.
“We share what we plant with whoever needs it,” said Gonzalez, who works in the community garden after a full day of picking grapes in the fields of the Eastern Coachella Valley. “We let them in and give them what they need.”
Las Casas is comprised of three smaller complexes totaling 180 units of farmworker and family housing. This multi-family project was developed and is owned by the Coachella Valley Housing Coalition (CVHC), an award-winning non-profit organization dedicated to building low-income housing throughout the region. The organization provides a variety of comprehensive community service programs, such as childcare programs and computer classes, at each of its 31 multi-family complexes. Las Casas is one of five CVHC complexes with a community garden.
“These are farm workers who work to feed the country but don’t have access to food themselves,” said Josseth Mota, community services coordinator for CVHC. “We want to strengthen the community and allow the residents to work for pleasure and benefit outside of their normal job.”
Nadia Villagran, CVHC’s director of communications and operations, affirms that the gardeners are harvesting community along with their crops.
“Through these gardens, we hope residents of Las Casas feel a true sense of community,” said Villagran. “In doing this, we want to be able to sustain the community and help those who cannot afford fresh produce to feed their families.”
To learn more about housing opportunities, or find out how you can help, visit www.cvhc.org or call (800) 689-4663.