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Harley and her grandmother Rohinie Frolich spend quality time in the Community Garden, their favorite place. / Laura Austin Photos

Ridgecrest Community Garden celebrates Juneteenth

By LAURA QUEZADA  News Review Staff Writer– 

Everyone is invited to celebrate Juneteenth at the Ridgecrest Community Garden on Monday, June 19, from 9 am until 1 pm at 231 West Haloid Avenue. This free event is a BBQ cookout-style celebration. Food, beverages, music, arts and crafts, workshops, fun activities, and raffles will be there. A list of activities and itineraries will be published on their social media sites on Facebook and Instagram.

In June 2021, June 19 was made an official federal holiday to commemorate the end of slavery in the United States. The day is also known as Juneteenth National Independence Day, Emancipation Day, Freedom Day, Jubilee Day, Black Independence Day, and Juneteenth Independence Day. Celebrations started in Texas in 1866. Although the slaves had been freed in 1863, the news and enforcement of freedom did not reach Texas until June 19, 1865. Juneteenth was first celebrated with church picnics and speeches, and the holiday spread across the country as Black Texans moved elsewhere.

Tyrone Ledford, President and Founder of Ridgecrest Community Garden
/ Laura Austin Photo

Tyrone Ledford, President and Founder of Ridgecrest Community Garden, tells us,  “Juneteenth is a new federal holiday. There’s still a lot of stigma behind Juneteenth where a lot of people don’t understand what it’s about, or it’s not widely celebrated as a holiday.  It’s important to bring cultural heritage into what we do here at the garden and also provide cultural awareness. Because Juneteenth is really about unity, it’s about the celebration of life. It is important to implement that into what we do here at the garden because we do celebrate life. One of our core values is forming a collectivistic type of community where we’re all working together, we’re all celebrating each other where we are, and providing unity and togetherness. I believe celebrating Juneteenth can bring and implement that into our community.”

To that end, quite a party is planned. “We are going to be providing food,” says Ledford.  “In Black culture, we like to do cookouts, so we’re going to be barbecuing cookout style here at the garden: hot dogs, hotlinks burgers, potato salad, chips. We’re also going to be doing a farm-to-table where we’re going to be harvesting a lot of the fruits and vegetables. We’re going to be setting them on a table and letting people feel what it’s like to actually harvest food from a plant and eat it fresh and organic. We’re going to have cucumber water and mint water. We’re going to be making that here so people can see how it’s made. See how it tastes fresh.

“We’re also going to be doing a lot of activities that are centered around Black culture, including Juneteenth Black Culture Bingo. We’re going to be offering classes and workshops where we will be teaching people how to build an Emancipation Garden. I’m going to be teaching people how to grow herbs, harvest herbs, and also how to use herbs to create specialized tea blends.”

Ledford has a broad world view which shaped his forming of the garden. “There’s a huge issue worldwide going on with community gardens where they don’t own their land. So a lot of community gardens have been stripped of their land due to the city owning it or another person owning it and leasing it out to them. So the first step for me was, ‘I have to buy land.’ We call that environmental justice, being in control of your own narrative.” The organization closed escrow on their property on May 28, 2020.

“When the pandemic hit, we saw all the craziness going on, we realized how our community is not sustainable. You know, the grocery stores were getting wiped out. Everyone was buying up toilet paper, and when we realized that was happening, my family and my organization all decided that a community garden would be the best solution to that. When we were looking for land, we chose this parcel because of the neighborhood that it is in, I would say probably the oldest neighborhood in the most disadvantaged neighborhood in Ridgecrest. So, to be able to provide direct access to produce, to decrease the cost of food, and to decrease the cost of living for this specific neighborhood was important for us. In the beginning, it was more so about bringing people together than just growing food.  As we grew, the idea grew even bigger.

“California is in a drought. So we became more so about water conservation, soil conservation, and biodiversity. We live in a high desert, so we like having beneficial bugs and insects like bees, butterflies, hummingbirds pollinators, we like having the flowing ecosystem here.

“The garden is broken up into two sides. We call them our community beds which are four by six raised beds where we grow food to give away for free to the community. And then we have our subscriber beds in the far corner where we have 25 subscriber beds, and those beds are designed for community members that come rent out a raised bed for one year for $80. We provide all of the soil, all of the amendments, compost, seeds, and seedlings, and we provide all the resources they need to be successful at growing whatever they want to grow. And for $80, they grow an abundance of food for the whole year that belongs directly to them. They get full access to the garden. They have the gate code, they can still harvest from the community beds. We provide them with an e-book on how to grow food in the desert that our organization authored, and then they have full access.

“The herbal side is more so for soil conservation. It’s more so for our flowering trees. Our flowering shrubs and grape vines there as well. We have lots of nectarine trees, peach trees, and plum trees. For that site, we plant a lot of drought-tolerant trees like the Oklahoma red buds. They grow beautiful pink flowers that bring in a lot of beneficial pollinators. We have eastern red buds and weeping Lavender red buds, which are all drought-tolerant plants. That also goes along with our water conservation as well. Which is why people don’t believe that our watering bill is less than the average residential parcel.”

He adds, “The herbal side is where we wanted to focus on biodiversity flowering plants that actually increase the yields of our fruits and our vegetables and our herbs. We have a beehive that increases biodiversity in the back, hidden away from people, so people don’t get stung.”

Holistic Divine Innovations is the non-profit that founded the Ridgecrest Community Garden. They are a Black and indigenous people of color organization. “Most of us are from the Los Angeles area,” Ledford says. He moved to Ridgecrest to assume the role of Child Development Professor and continued his Presidency with the Southern California organization. “A lot of the individuals from our organization work with the compact community garden, they have their own farms, they have their own urban gardens out in Los Angeles, and we give each other ideas. Our organization is based in Ridgecrest, but we have board members here and in other parts of California.

“We also have our committee, which is the Ridgecrest Community Garden Board of Directors, who are the ones who actually run the garden here. We have a plot coordinator, a volunteer coordinator, a secretary, and an event coordinator. We’re very team-based.”

The garden has been well received and has visibly flourished since its inception. Rohinie Frolich and her 5-year-old granddaughter Harley are frequent visitors. Harley requests, “Grandma, can we go to the garden? Our favorite place?” Frolich says, “She loves carrots, so we make sure we plant a lot of carrots.” Grandma lives in a condo with no space for a garden but does grow flowers. “This is where I come for my silent meditation,” she says. “Let people know that we have an oasis in the desert. It’s really possible.”

Ledford was introduced to gardening by his own grandmother. He tells us, “I’m from Compton. My grandma did a lot of gardening when I was younger. I learned a lot of the practical stuff through her. Not really the knowledge of what I’m doing, but I did a lot of gardening with her. As I got older, working with master gardeners, I started to grow in Southern California and Compton. From there, I began building gardens. I worked in preschool settings. I would always build a little community volunteer-based garden. Parents would sign up to come to help our garden. It was always a part of the curriculum that I created. So I’ve been gardening for quite a bit now.

“If you want to learn about gardening, we have our open hours of operation every Saturday from 9 am to 11 am. People who come in during our open hours of operation learn a lot. We do a lot of work around here. We do weeding, planting, and a lot of garden work, and free-flowing conversations happen. You can ask any questions. I’m usually there, or our plot coordinator or someone from our team is usually there to answer all of your questions. They learn about pretty much everything that we do here. I teach them a lot of strategies and techniques that they can take back home. They leave with produce, they leave with cuttings if they want to start something themselves. It is that type of community that happens here.”

If you choose to get a consultation at your home, Holistic Divine Innovations provides that service for a fee. “We provide consultations. I will go out and give a consultation providing different strategies of what you can do to create a sustainable garden. “ For example, trees for windbreaks.”There are things that a lot of people think you can’t grow here but actually do really well.”

There are lots of folks to acknowledge for helping this non-profit enterprise succeed.

“We’ve been working with the UMOJA program at Cerro Coso, which is geared towards Black students’ success. They helped sponsor our Earth Day event here. Special thanks to my wife Gabriella and my four children; nine-year-old Maxwell, six-year-old twins Malcolm and Aubrey, and three-year-old Baby Tyrone.  They were a huge part of building this garden. My kids are always here; they’re here to the point where sometimes it’s hard to be in here.”

And a thank you to sponsors and donors. Last year their water bill was paid by an anonymous donor who went directly to the water company to pay their bill.

Although the subscriber beds are sold out, there is always room available for volunteers. “If you wish to be on our volunteer list, you can sign up for that, and then you will receive all of our event information via email. You can message our page or reach out via our social media. (Facebook and Instagram) We will be doing a sign-in sheet at the celebration where you can write your name and your email address, and we will add you to our volunteer list that way.”