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Press  October 23 , 2008: Ventura County Star    
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Longtime Oak Park gardeners and neophytes reap benefits in relaxation, fresh produce

By Eva Smythe, Correspondent
Thursday, October 23, 2008

Jason Redmond / Star staff Oak Park 10/18/08: B.J. Doerfling of Agoura Hills, left, talks to garden vice president Vicki Rankin while picking vegetables from her plot in the Oak Park Community Gardens on Saturday afternoon. The garden has 66 plots with six still available.


Photos by Jason Redmond / Star staff B.J. Doerfling of Agoura Hills picks pole beans from her plot in the Oak Park Community Gardens. The garden has 66 plots with six still available. Tomatoes, below, lead the list of items grown at the garden, which is all organic.

As a Los Angeles police detective, Roseanne Parino knew all about stress. But whenever she needed a place of rest, she found it in her garden, which always provided a welcome pause from the pressures of her hectic career.

Now retired, Parino serves as president of the Oak Park Community Gardens, which not only gives her the opportunity to indulge in her lifelong passion for gardening but also allows her to help others experience the same sense of tranquility and personal accomplishment that she has always known.

"It gives us a sense of peace that we really need in these crazy times," she said, summing up the feelings of many of her gardening peers.

Oak Park Community Gardens is an approximately one-acre site administrated by the Rancho Simi Recreation and Park District.

By rule, the gardening is organic — no pesticides allowed. That's the way it has always been and that's the way it always will be, Parino said.

"When the founders went looking for property, they saw this piece of land that had never been used for commercial or residential or industry," she said. "This land has never been a receptacle for any types of chemicals."

It's a welcome retreat from the clamor of urban life and the diminishing sense of the outdoors.

In fact, Oak Park residents Jim and Timmie High signed up six years ago to work a parcel of land because their town home was essentially devoid of sunlight and tillable ground.

The couple now rents 1 1/2 parcels, and they can be found at the site three to four times a week.

The work has had its rewards. During their first year, the Highs harvested a watermelon weighing 30 pounds.

"I had about five big watermelons," Timmie High said, adding that she also had an ample supply of vegetables.

Her success was more than certain pests could stand, however, and she hasn't reached that plateau since.


"Once the e-mail went out to the critters," she mused, "that was the end of it."

Produce swap

Still, the fertile soil continues to produce enough that the Highs regularly participate in a food swap.

"Anytime you're up there, you share your produce," Timmie said. "If you have an abundance, you share.

"You share your seeds, and if someone has too many plants, they share those, too," she said. "It's very informal, and the new gardeners are always fun to meet."

The more experienced hands are more than happy to help the newcomers, and there's a steady supply of rookies anxious to learn from the pros.

"A number of gardeners come in as novices," Parino noted. "We have a great support network of other gardeners.

"There's always something new to learn," she added. "If an odd bug shows up, we discuss it and have speakers to address gardening issues."

Growing fruits and vegetables for the table is a great incentive to many patrons, especially with the high costs and inconsistent quality of the grocery store varieties.

"But gardening also is a great way to connect with your children and grandchildren," Parino said.

For example, when the heat of summer gives way to the chill of fall, Oak Park Community Gardens swings into its annual Pumpkin Patch, which is taking place this weekend.

Life lessons

The pumpkin patch is how Parino became involved in Oak Park.

After accompanying her granddaughter, T.J., to the Halloween event, the two decided to commit to developing their own parcel of ground.

Timmie High said she also discovered many years ago — when her children, Debi and Mark, were young — that gardening was a great way to teach children some of life's important lessons — "like where a carrot comes from and how it grows."

This sometimes leads to unexpected benefits, Parino said.

"Kids tend to be picky with vegetables," she said, "but if they plant and pick their own food, they will enjoy vegetables that they didn't eat before."

The most popular produce among growers is tomatoes, followed closely by beans, peas, lettuce, melons, eggplant, radishes, carrots, beets and cauliflower, along with a few berries.

Splashes of color from a variety of flowers add an eye-pleasing touch.

The gardeners come from many backgrounds and all ages. There are single working people, professional couples, screenwriters — and all of them have their own reasons for grabbing spade and hoe and getting their hands dirty.

"Everyone has a story," Parino said. But above all, "there's a commonality of wanting to get back to the earth."