During our hot Ojai summers most people either try to cut down on outside obligations or take a vacation. Not Heather Mohan-Gibbons. She’s already busy gathering information and making plans as the new garden manager of the Valley of the Moon Community Garden. The Garden, located at 370 Baldwin Road, uses sustainable gardening practices to provide two types of activities for Valley residents. The Garden offers a traditional community garden portion for individual gardeners, and a space where community members grow food to donate to the Help of Ojai Senior Food Program. At one time the garden was also a hands-on learning site for Ventura County Master Gardener Trainees.
“I am a fairly new garden member, “says Heather. She adds that her previous credentials with the organization included, “volunteering to organize a potluck…. I’ve always had a home garden, as I do now, but I wanted the sense of community. I joined and got involved, then was quickly drafted by Robin. She has worked so tirelessly; she needs a break! I am not a Master Gardener, yet know there are lots of garden experts in Ojai that I can go to when I need them.”
In addition to her new volunteer position, Heather has a full-time job as Director of Applied Research & Behavior for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). “I grew up in Minnesota on what you could call a homestead,” says Heather, now a four-year Ojai Valley resident. “It was 5 acres. We had a big garden and goats for milk; my dad made cheese. We always had a lot of foster kids around. It was a great way to feed everyone in a healthy way!”
She and her husband, Paul Gibbons, live in Meiners Oaks and are both busy people who travel for their jobs. “Paul is a reptile specialist for The Turtle Conservancy based here in Ojai,” says Heather. “He’s currently in the Philippines investigating the poaching of over 4,000 endangered turtles.” The two dedicated animal lovers share their home with their dogs, Luna and Freya, both of which remain at her feet as she discusses her new second job.
Already taking the reins of the garden, she created a questionnaire to ask the current members what the garden has meant to them in the past and what they want from the garden in the future.
“Now that I have some of the questionnaires back, I’m finding the garden provides other basic needs besides food,” says Heather. “It gives people a sense of community, a place to come to meditate. It’s even a type of therapy for some.”
Some changes are coming. For one, in the past the garden has provided produce for the senior meals program at Little House. After talking to people involved in that program, Heather would like to see a more hands-on component for seniors. “I know seniors have limitations and different abilities,” says Heather. “Even if it ends up just being something simple, like giving seniors a handful of bone meal and having them put it in the planting holes, it would be a connection to the food they eat. It would give them a sense of connection they don’t have now.”
Heather’s immediate concerns are getting the area mulched, analyzing what plants and trees remain viable during our sustained drought, and repairing watering systems. The mulch will keep plant roots cooler and keep moisture from evaporating as quickly. “We are also dealing with the effect the surrounding animals are having on the garden,” says Heather, who has seen gophers holes, deer damaged plants, and water lines chewed through. “Long term I’d like the garden fenced to keep them from chewing the budding plants and the irrigation lines. We keep a water bowl out for the animals, but the fence is still needed.”
Heather, busy thinking about possible sponsors to help move the garden forward, wants to get the word out that spaces are available for new members to come and get their hands dirty. “There is so much we can do, “says Heather. “I’m off to the American Community Garden Association’s annual conference in Denver this August. I figured it would be a great way to get new resources. They’ve been doing it for 36 years!”
There are 5 plots open – to contact Heather email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 751-6161. To keep up on what’s new and happening at the garden visit facebook.com/ojaigarden.