In a sprawling sea of green, Ricardo Arrivillaga walks up to one specific tree. “This is my favorite tree,” he says of a Golden Spoon tree, also commonly known as Nance originally from Southern Mexico and Central America. “Mi arbol y yo,” he says “My tree and me,” referring to a song by Argentine singer Alberto Cortez. He recites a couple of lines from the song as people begin to trickle in to peruse for plants.
Arrivillaga is the owner of Ricardo’s Nursery in North Long Beach, which opened in 2007, but it wasn’t always that way.
He started off as the driver for Garden of Eva, the former iteration of the nursery, and eventually became a sales representative and manager.
“I was so motivated to own it and I felt like nothing could stop me, that I could do everything I wanted,” Arrivillaga said to the Signal Tribune.
“[…] I think just his passion for the nursery and the plants itself grew so that when the opportunity arose, he just went for it,” Nadia Ibanez, controller and manager for Ricardo’s Nursery said.
Arrivillaga’s passion for nature, plants and trees in his nursery is evident. Next to his favorite Nance tree, he has another set of trees, which he and his team are currently studying. They want to see how trees that come from tropical regions are going to fare in Southern California’s summer and winter.
The nursery sprawls at approximately 6 acres, according to the nursery’s website, offering wholesale and retail shrubs, vines and a variety of plants and trees including ones that are drought tolerant, such as succulents.
Effects of COVID-19
By 8:30 a.m. on Saturday, a few masked customers were walking the rows of succulents and trees. According to Ibanez, this has been one of their busiest summers.
Specifically, the demand for vegetables, herbs and fruit trees grew during the pandemic, according to Ibanez.
“Overall, it’s actually been great for us, a lot of people that have been staying home after they did their inside home cleaning and all, everything else they could possibly do indoors, they started to go through their yards and started gardening,” Ibanez said of the impact of COVID-19 on the business. “We started getting a lot of people coming in, looking primarily for fruit trees, vegetables, […] getting some perennial flowering and any way that they could get entertained and keep their kids and everyone busy in a productive way.”
“I think the limitations on going out brought a higher need for people to have easier access to food,” Ibanez said.”Another growing demand has been for indoor plants. Customers lately have gravitated more towards these plants which not only are beautiful and elevate your home [aesthetically], but also provide health benefits, like purifying the air and positively impacting your mental health.”
At the beginning of the pandemic, Ibanez and Arrivillaga were worried not just for their health and that of their employees, but for having to cut back hours.
“Most of our employees have been with us for a long time,” Ibanez said. “Having to leave them without work, it felt so worrisome for us. Initially, the restrictions did affect us negatively in that we didn’t know how to adjust. […] We did have to cut back a couple of hours just to get a sense of how we were going to manage this new situation.”
However, due to the fact that the nursery is part of the agricultural field, they were never required to close. They proceeded with safety measures to ensure a secure shopping experience.
Out of the nursery’s COVID-19 experience, the idea of food distribution was born.
According to Ibanez, the food distributions started this summer because Arrivillaga wanted to help people who had been laid off due to the ongoing pandemic.
“We were just regularly getting people coming by and asking for a job because they lost their job, they weren’t allowed to work due to the restrictions,” Ibanez said. “And he’s like, you know what if I cannot give them jobs I could help them by giving them some food they may be needing during this time.”
The money for the first couple of food drives came from Arrivillaga’s pocket, from the business and from donations given by his family, friends and anyone who wanted to contribute, Ibanez shared.
The nursery joined forces with Puente Latino Association and Downtown Long Beach Lions Club for the last six food distributions.
At the Saturday, Aug. 22 distribution, approximately 150 people received a bag full of food, which included orange juice, bread, cheese, rice, beans among other items and a brochure for the 2020 Census.
“[Arrivillaga] has always been helpful working with us personally and on community projects,” Kirk Davis, treasurer of Puente Latino Association and Hilda Gaytan, president of Puente Latino Association said in a joint statement to the Signal Tribune. “Puente Latino Association started supporting and volunteering at Ricardo’s when we saw the help he was providing the community. It is very humbling to see the impact the food giveaways have on the recipients, and the need is greater than anyone expected. The average family size served is around five.”
Arrivillaga witnessed a family who had started lining up for food as early as 5:20 a.m. for Saturday’s distribution. Normally people begin lining up at 6:00 a.m. with COVID-19 regulations in place.
“It is very sad to know that they have to be here so early because they need it, on the other hand, for us it’s like ‘let’s go do this,’” Arrivillaga said. “To me, that’s my drive.” That morning, he picked up the food as early as 5 a.m., to make sure the food was fresh.
According to Gaytan and Davis, Speaker Anthony Rendon’s office set up a temporary account for Puente Latino Association at the LA Regional Food Bank in order to distribute 250 prepared food boxes to community members, once the food distributions were mentioned. “This led to Puente being able to apply for and receive a food provider account,” Gaytan and Davis said.
Bringing Oaxacan Roots to Long Beach
Food distributions aren’t the only thing Ricardo’s Nursery is doing for the community. Arrivillaga, who was born in Oaxaca, Mexico, brings a part of his culture to the nursery to share with the world at large in the form of artisanal workshops and other events.
Oaxacan artisan, Jara Avila Hernandez has flown in to show those in attendance how to create an “alebrije,” a brightly colored mythical sculpture originating from Oaxaca.
“This is the second workshop I do in Long Beach,” Avila Hernandez said to the Signal Tribune in Spanish. “A lot of people are interested in knowing what alebrijes are or what they’re made of and we cover all of that in the workshops.”
“I want the culture to be known here,” Arrivillaga said. “Not only for the Latino community but for all of the communities. I want them to know what this culture is all about and so far it’s been just wonderful,” he said of the alebrije workshops that have been hosted so far.
“[The] people were just really enjoying the time away from home in nature, doing something different, they were so proud of what they did.”
The next set of workshops will be on Oaxacan ice creams and handmade soaps using plants from the nursery.
For Arrivillaga, he is a long way from where he started. A lot of the employees have been with him since the beginning, five of them being co-workers from when he was working for the nursery. “They really pushed me to get it, ‘go ahead and get it, this is a lifetime opportunity, get it.’ Working together has been the key.”
“If I did it, I want other people to know that it’s possible,” Arrivillaga said while standing next to his favorite tree.