Gladys Avenue Urban Farms heals as it teaches

On Monday, April 8, children released ladybugs and decollate snails in the urban farm located just north of Anaheim Street, in Long Beach’s Zaferia neighborhood. Through this hands-on activity, preschool-aged children learned about the harmonious life cycle of ladybugs, aphids, and snails. This activity is one of many being hosted at Gladys Avenue Urban Farm on Monday mornings that teach about farming while connecting the community directly to their source of food.

“This is about teaching children about organic food at a young age, so that when they grow up it’s just a part of their natural being,” said Laura Som, director of the MAYE Center, which is directing and restoring Gladys Avenue.

Ladybugs sitting on kale at Gladys Avenue Urban Farm. Photo by Sarahi Apaez.

The MAYE Center, just a few blocks from the garden, is a place where Cambodian survivors of the Khmer Rouge genocide use gardening as a form of healing. Gladys Avenue serves as an expansion of the MAYE Center, with its focus on meditation, agriculture, yoga, and education.

Ollie Cigliano, an urban chef and organic cooking class instructor has taken the initiative to lead educational activities for children at this farm for the first time in five years. She demonstrated how to grow organic tomatoes at home through an engaging activity for both parents and their children.

Children setting carnivorous snails onto the soil with the help of Laura Som at Gladys Avenue Urban Farm. Photo by Sarahi Apaez.

Long Beach resident Phi Ewing brought her two daughters to the garden and watched them as they explored the kale beds by placing snails on the soil.

“Any chance to play in the dirt, they love it,” said Ewing.

Cigliano believes that by mere exposure to what she calls a real tomato and being a part of the process of making it grow, will make children want to eat them. She and Som are working to provide a space where children can scatter and use the garden as an outdoor classroom.

Children help put soil into a pot during the tomato potting demonstration, taught by Ollie Cigliano at Gladys Avenue Urban Farm. Photo by Sarahi Apaez.

The two met at this garden in 2012 when they brought preschoolers from the area to learn about organic produce. Som and Cigliano are now working at making sure Gladys Avenue lives up to its full potential.

That includes plans to make this garden a sustainable food system by providing affordable organic Asian produce for the Cambodian community in Long Beach. Survivors will have access to more space to grow Asian specific produce and use the gardens as a sanctuary for healing.

“One of the first things you can do to heal yourself is through your food,” said Som.

Children learning about the French snails that will eat the brown garden snails at Gladys Avenue Urban Farm. Photo by Sarahi Apaez.

This farm brings a positive social impact to the people who live on Gladys Ave. and beyond, and only has plans to continue to grow.

“Kids who grow up on Gladys Ave. walk by and watch as volunteers harvest kale, it engages this community and has such a high social impact,” said Cigliano.

Their mission right now is to disseminate information about gardening for free to empower others through the process of growing their own food. While restoring this farm, they engage the community by inviting them to the farm every Monday morning, to participate in a different activity or workshop every week. Last week, Cigliano taught how to make your own vermicompost.

Children setting carnivorous snails onto the soil with the help of Laura Som at Gladys Avenue Urban Farm. Long Beach, California, Monday April 8, 2019. Photo by Sarahi Apaez.

On Monday, April 29, Cigliano will host a Sun Ball planting workshop where the community will help plant the flowers and be given their own potted seed to plant at home.

Events at Gladys Ave are free although RSVP is required.


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Steve Lowery began his journalism career at the Los Angeles Times, where he planned to spend his entire career. God, as usual, laughed at his plans and he has since written for the short-lived sports publication The National, the L.A. Daily News, the Press-Telegram, New Times LA, the District and the OC Weekly. He is the Arts & Culture Editor for the Post, overseeing the Hi-lo.