Ventura County Star - vcstar.com
By Karen Hibdon
September 22, 2011
Organizers of a Simi Valley community garden are inviting folks of all ages to get out, get down and get dirty Sunday for "Let's Move! Day."
Inspired by first lady Michelle Obama's efforts to decrease childhood obesity by getting Americans off the couch and active in their communities, the national event is part of InStep for Life, an initiative of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in North America.
Simi at the Garden broke ground in February on 2.3 undeveloped acres at the back of property owned by the Simi Seventh-day Adventist Church and School on Sinaloa Road. The ground has been leveled and the irrigation system installed, but there's still plenty to do before the nondenominational public garden opens.
Volunteers are needed beginning at 8 a.m. Sunday to paint murals, build owl boxes and raptor perches, plant native California plants provided by the Calleguas Municipal Water District, distribute wood chips and soil, and help construct model plots.
When it opens, the garden will feature about 200 plots for lease to individuals, families, service organizations and youth groups. Rent will be $75 to $100 a year, depending on water rates.
"No matter what your faith or financial ability, this is a loving community project that can involve everyone," said Beth Dooley, Simi at the Garden executive director.
" 'Let's Move! Day' is all about getting up, outside and moving" and at the same time making a difference in the community, she said.
Salina Perry proposed the garden to church and school officials. She attends the church and her oldest son attends the school.
"People often ask me, 'How is your little garden growing?' " Perry said. "I tell them, 'It's not little and it's not mine.' "
A lab technician at Simi Valley Hospital since 1997, Perry, president of the garden board, said the idea is rooted in her daily encounters with patients who could benefit greatly from a healthier lifestyle.
The same day Perry contacted city officials with the garden proposal, Dooley sent out feelers to the same, soliciting an independent-study grant-writing project she needed to complete to earn a bachelor of science degree at California Lutheran University. A civilian crime scene investigator with the Simi Valley Police Department, she wanted to do something to benefit the community.
The pair meshed and the project got a green light, receiving a city resolution on Valentine's Day. A board of directors was organized, and Simi at the Garden received its nonprofit status.
"They've been really ambitious," said Simi Mayor Bob Huber. The garden "has really solid leadership, and that's important. I'm enthused about what they're doing for our community."
The biggest hurdle is raising money for a wrought-iron fence that will stretch from Sinaloa Road to the garden, separating the garden and nearby school. The lowest bid for the fencing is $13,000, Perry said, about half of which has been raised.
Much of the garden's infrastructure is in place, thanks to donations and volunteer efforts. The garden plan was drafted by architect Darin Gaines, board chairman. Debra James designed an entryway that will lead into the garden. Cal State Rent-a-Fence has donated chain-link fencing around the garden for six months, and Caveman Construction and West Hills Landscaping leveled the ground and installed the irrigation, Perry said.
Founding board member Dave Watkins recently visited the garden and was amazed at the improvements.
"It's graded, water lines are in and there are raised water spigots. Once, it was nothing but a sea of weeds," he said. "We've all been out here with wheelbarrow and shovels — it's humbling to see."
But there's still much to do, including fundraising. Garden paths, Perry said, will be marked with signs bearing the names of major benefactors such as Thrivent Financial, which donated $5,000, and Simi Valley Hospital, which gave $1,000.
Then there's the ongoing need for tools, sheds, garden supplies and volunteers.
For "Let's Move! Day," the hospital is pledging support through its Scrubs program, said Michelle Foster, director of marketing and communication. The program reimburses employees who take time off work to volunteer in the community.
The garden will include several larger community plots — an education garden for school field trips, a flower garden with bounty to be shared with area hospital patients and shut-ins, a water conservation area and a communal herb garden.
In keeping with the healthy lifestyle theme, educational programs will be offered, including "yoga in the garden" and seasonal cooking classes.
"We're trying to involve everyone," Dooley said. "We want the next generation to understand that food does not come from a drive-thru window. It grows from the ground up and should be healthy."