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Local Hero Of The Week: Community Garden Director Taps Into The Hidden Potential Of Compton’s Soil

Jonathan Fajardo stands in front of tall green stalks of leaves flanked at either side of him. He's wearing brown overalls, a black undershirt and a black hat that covers him from the intense SoCal sun. He has his arms behind him and looks into the camera directly, though his sunglasses covers his eyes.
Jonathan Fajardo stands in front of the lush Compton Community Garden, where he is the Culture and Programming Director.
(Courtesy of Jonathan Fajardo)
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When most people imagine the landscape of Compton they likely think of concrete and buildings on every block.

They’re not wrong, says Jonathan Fajardo, who grew up here.

“Truly, there is an astounding shortage of green spaces, much less community gardens,” he said.

But as the Culture and Community Director of Compton Community Garden, he's working to counteract that by highlighting the city’s agricultural legacy — its rich cultural history of urban farms and greenery.

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The area was a hub for Black agricultural families who migrated from the rural South in the 1950s. Though many of the families have left, the area still holds on to its farm roots with barns and horse ranches and sections like Richland Farms.

The Compton Community Garden is an all-organic “communal effort to directly address ecological and social inequalities in Compton and beyond,” said Fajardo.

It’s a natural space, he says, where community members can learn to grow food, teach others, or just simply breathe. The garden grows everything from fresh chocolate mint, sage, and watermelon, to blueberries, tomatoes and summer greens from the vine.

“I think being in the garden is just a cathartic experience,” Fajardo said. “It's kind of cosmic in that in doing gardening work, you're feeding the mind, feeding the body, nourishing the body, the soul. And even on a spiritual level, it's just become a space for meditation practice.”

But herbs and vegetables aren’t the only things that grow in the garden. During the labor-intensive work of mixing mulch and turning beds, community members interact and relationships blossom.

“Friendships…business ideas, all types of these incredible things have just come to fruition during these community volunteer days," Fajardo said. "Just because people from different cultures and different backgrounds, socioeconomically and otherwise, have just come together.”

Farjardo is also interested in indigenous studies, and how individuals can shift from a transactional, market-based economy to a “shared way of living that values human-to-human relationships,” he said.

So the community garden felt like a meeting point of all of those ideas and a place where you could practice direct democracy,” he said. “And also on a baseline level where I could just learn how to grow food, which I feel is a skill that every human being should have, as it's the resource that really does matter.

As a kid, Fajardo saw many community gardens that required hefty payment in order to secure a plot to grow food. This was a barrier to entry for him.

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It wasn't until he was skating around Long Beach a few years ago that he saw a community garden pop up where there used to be an old motel.

And I kind of poked my head in and there was this incredible retired neurosurgeon named Dr. Sheridan Ross, and he had developed this community garden. And I was intrigued,” he said.

Ross is a master gardener and founder of 16 community gardens. It was under his guidance that he saw a more accessible model of community gardens. The garden has free gardening classes and even guided meditations.

Fajardo also makes sure to honor the Gabrielino-Tongva people who cultivated the land before colonization and presently continue to preserve the land.

It's this embedded Indigenous, Black, and Brown agricultural legacy that Fajardo hopes to pass down to the youth who enter the garden.

"What's the most exciting thing is that it's young people who are involved and who are connecting culture and ecology and different perspectives and backgrounds, all within this one safe space," he said.

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