UPDATE: ‘The Greenbelt Adventure’ to take root in Drake Chavez park

Children participating in Adventures to Dreams Enrichment’s (ADE) garden program

The Long Beach City Council approved a lease at its Feb. 4 meeting with local nonprofit Adventures to Dreams Enrichment, Inc. (ADE) to grow a community garden on a quarter-acre of land on the western side of the Drake Chavez Greenbelt at 1000 DeForest Ave.

The Drake Chavez Greenbelt and Artificial Turf Field– adjacent to the LA River and north of W. Shoreline Drive– had its grand opening two years ago. The Parks, Recreation and Marine Department describes it as a key component of Long Beach’s 57-acre greenbelt master-plan.

[aesop_image img=”https://signaltribunenewspaper.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/Garden-1.png” panorama=”off” credit=”Courtesy City of Long Beach” align=”center” lightbox=”on” captionsrc=”custom” caption=”Aerial view of quarter-acre plot in the Drake Chavez Greenbelt that the Long Beach City
Council is set to lease on Feb. 4 to local nonprofit Adventures to Dreams Enrichment,
Inc. to develop a community garden for kids” captionposition=”left” revealfx=”off” overlay_revealfx=”off”]

The council approved a five-year lease with ADE for a portion of that land beginning March 1, with the option to renew twice for two-year terms. ADE had proposed the educational garden for youth three months ago, which the Parks, Recreation and Marine Department (PRM) approved at its Dec. 19, 2019 meeting. Besides gardening, the program offers outdoor science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics (STEAM) education activities.

The City staff report describes ADE’s mission as empowering children in at-risk communities by exposing them to safe, fun, interactive, recreational and educational learning environments through educational tools, hands-on learning, self-esteem activities, guest speakers, mentorship and field trips.

Founded in 2015, ADE currently tends two beds at the South 40 Community Garden at 2813 E. South St. run by nonprofit Long Beach Organic, which also operates six other community gardens throughout the city.

ADE’s founder Sheila Grantham told the Signal Tribune in a Feb. 3 interview that the program’s kids will appreciate tending not just two small plots in a space shared with 20 other gardeners, but a full 10,000 square feet of their own.

She recalls asking recently-retired PRM Director Gerardo Mouet what part of the .23-acre plot ADE could get and was surprised when he said, “All of it.”

“I know the kids will go crazy running,” Grantham said. “They just run until they’re exhausted.”

With the additional space, Grantham hopes to increase the program’s enrollment from 25 to 35 youths aged from 4 to 13 years directly from the park’s surrounding neighborhood. The youth would meet on the third Saturday of every month for a “garden-based STEAM adventure,” according the staff report, with CSULB and LBCC students and community volunteers helping to maintain the new garden on a daily basis.

In lieu of rent, the City will ask ADE to report annually on the frequency, type, participation and scope of all educational programming, community events and revenue-generating activities to show that community benefits meet or exceed the plot’s fair-market rent value. ADE will cover its own electricity and water usage.

ADE will also improve the land, which Grantham said is currently not much more than an unofficial dog park, through above-ground gardening plots for vegetables, flowers and fruit trees. Beginning next year, ADE hopes to open a farm stand on the premises to sell its garden-raised produce and teach the program’s kids math and entrepreneurial skills.

ADE also intends to add a 40-foot shipping-container office space to the plot to store garden implements, as well as a patio cover to shelter an outdoor classroom, a portable cooking-demonstration station, ten-foot fencing around the area and seating for visitors, all at its own expense, according to the staff report.

Funding for ADE’s garden program has come from grants and donations in small spurts, Grantham said. Gift cards from food outlets such as Costco, Food 4 Less and Vons allow her to feed lunch to the program’s kids. She also received $200 and activity kits with gloves and seeds from the Whole Kids Foundation last year, plus $3,000 from UCI’s sustainability program due to the efforts of volunteer helper Vivi Goh, a PhD student at UCI. Grantham has also been working with a grant writer to apply for a $20,000 grant from Shell.

In the meantime, as a full-time private-school administrator, Grantham– or Ms. Sheila, as she is known in the program– relies on volunteers and partners to keep ADE running.

Grantham described how a recent field trip to a Microsoft store in Costa Mesa– during which participants worked on laptops for the technology part of a STEAM activity–led to an offer from Microsoft to conduct tech activities for the kids when ADE meets every third Saturday.

But Grantham says she has heard “no” more often than “yes” when asking for help or donations, including from organizations within Long Beach.

She will reuse wine barrels for planting that a local Home Depot donated to ADE last year, as well as large planters donated from Lowe’s last year. Home Depot will also be donating cedar planks this year for ADE to create 10 garden beds on the new premises, Grantham said.

Grantham will bring ADE’s young participants to see the new site at this month’s meeting on Feb. 15. She is then planning two back-to-back Saturdays in mid-March for kids and volunteers to clean up the property and start planting.
Vegetables that the kids will plant include lettuce, tomatoes, cauliflower and three types of kale.

“I had them draw pictures of what they would like,” Grantham said. “We’re going to try to come as close to their pictures as possible.”

Grantham is currently thinking of organizing the garden like a maze and calling it “The Greenbelt Adventure.”

Grantham had started ADE in 2015 with only a handful of participating kids using her own savings after being denied grant requests to fund a program. At the time, she was teaching in Los Angeles and realized her students basically stayed cooped up at home on weekends.

“I was asking the kids what they do on the weekends and they said ‘We don’t go outside because it’s too dangerous,’” Grantham recalled, adding that one child said others tried to steal his bike when he took it out.

“These kids, they need to get out on Saturdays,” she emphasized. “They don’t need to be glued to video games.”
Grantham started arranging field trips for the kids to places like the Broad Museum and the Griffith Observatory, which their parents appreciated. In 2016, she got the idea to have students participate in a community garden because she lived next to one in Long Beach.

“From day one, they were really into it,” she said, noting that the kids sowed all the seeds, weeded and watered. “We started planting, things were growing.”

Grantham’s resilience as a breast-cancer survivor shows in her continuing efforts for the ADE’s kids. Activist Justin Rudd’s local nonprofit Community Action Team awarded Grantham an unsung-hero award last month for her work with the children.

“I’m really excited,” Grantham says of the new space to grow ADE. “Everything I put my hands on related to kids is going to have a positive impact.”

For more information about ADE, including donation and volunteer opportunities, visit adventurestodreams.org.

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