A Former Food Desert Feeds a Community’s Spirit

Kid in garden

The Ocean View Growing Grounds (OVGG), which resides in the Mountain View community of Southeastern San Diego, Calif. allows people to socialize with their community while growing healthy greens. The Growing Grounds was formerly a food desert, but now, local residents are working on transforming the 20,000-square-foot vacant lot into a healthy production space.

The land in the Chollas Creek Watershed area is now cared for and loved by many people. The area has issues with poverty, obesity, and environmental degradation, which makes it difficult for the people in the immediate location to get access to produce. Tending the space has allowed residents to keep the land “flourishing.” The land also has become a positive distraction for neighborhood kids.

The green space is managed by a UC San Diego research team, which includes undergraduate and graduate students. It’s also managed by various nonprofit organizations. Overall, the community, campus, and additional workers are binding together to make a sustainable growing model at OVGG that will ensure people in under-served areas have access to nutritious food.

While the site aims to be a place for positive social and ecological change, it’s also a science and technology hub of sorts. The former food desert utilizes plant and soil testing technologies, mapping, visualization, site assessment, and scenario planning tools.

One of the organization’s main contributors is Keith Pezzoli, director of the Urban Studies and Planning Program at UC San Diego and a faculty member in the Department of Communication. He’s involved with the Urban Agriculture and Food Disparities research project. The project’s goal is to support the cultivation of community gardens and food forests on vacant lots. The research begins with the OVGG site. The Global Action Research Center also is working with the OVGG to help mobilize local residents, business leaders, and others.

In addition to working at the OVGG, Pezzoli, along with Dr. Wael Al-Delaimy, UC San Diego division chief of Global Health at the Department of Family and Preventative Medicine, are working to cleanup brownfields (also known as parcels of land previously used for commercial or industrial purposes). Funding for this work comes from the university’s Superfund Research Center (funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences), and the City of San Diego and the Environmental Protection Agency.

So far, the OVGG has two food forests, as well as several raised beds. The site also has three composting bins.

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 Image: Samuel Mann