A dying orange tree withers under the heat of a recent summer’s day at the Wig Wag community garden in Anaheim. Two shriveled baby oranges weigh down its spindly limbs. Where sunflowers used to tower over gardeners, only a patch of deadened grass now rests. Wooden planks lean against a gate waiting to be built back into garden beds. But weeds are the only flowers blooming across this unused plot of land on the corner of Melrose and Santa Ana Street in the city.
“I wanted to plant my own plants that could help my diabetes,” Dante Santos says. He’s been a Wig Wag member since mid-2014 and used to be president of the board for a short term. Before that, Santos called almost every other day for six months until finally getting off a waiting list and became a garden member. For Santos, Wig Wag isn’t just a brief excursion into the pleasures of gardening. His diabetes requires him to follow a strict diet, so he grew vegetables that he would later cook at home. But for the past year, Santos has not been able to grow his own produce. According to board meeting minutes from last October, Wig Wag is under “deconstruction.”
The city first introduced residents to community gardens in 2012 through the Community Garden Project. Gail Eastman, who served on council at the time, wanted to transform empty lots into gardens with the surrounding communities tending to them together. Four such gardens emerged throughout Anaheim with Wig Wag in downtown being the last to open in 2013. The garden got its quirky name from the county’s oldest railroad crossing signal on Lemon and Santa Ana Street, which is commonly (or uncommonly) known as a “Wig Wag.”
But in terms of the community garden’s future, Wig Wag finds itself at its own crossroads. Before “deconstruction,” Board members from the East Anaheim Community Garden (EAGC) were invited to survey Wig Wag and suggest improvements. Wendall Walters, EAGC’s site manager, teamed up with Kevin Wagner, current Wig Wag president, to “present a vision of future work.” This includes installing a new irrigation system, creating a walkway, and building all new raised garden beds. In other words, they wanted to replicate East Anaheim’s garden model from the hills down below. Eight months later, Wig Wag has yet to see any of the proposed renovations happen.
“While the city ultimately owns the land for the gardens, all of our community gardens are turned over to the community to run and administer,” Mike Lyster, city spokesman, writes the Weekly in an email. Wig Wag’s board has sole access to financial reports. Currently, there are only three active board members, and 30 active members of the garden (who haven’t been able to garden).
The Weekly asked remaining board members for comment about the lag at Wig Wag, but received no response.
In the meantime, the grounds of the garden sit idly still thirsting for a brand new irrigation system. “We’re just waiting for someone to win the bidding,” Santos says. Because water companies don’t see much profit in this kind of project, the bidding has been slow to start. “It has been a challenge for volunteers to get someone for a relatively small project at a time when there is a lot of demand for landscaping from home and commercial projects,” Lyster adds. “The board is now undertaking a new round of soliciting contractors.”
Wig Wag members took apart garden beds they had tended to for as long as four years and even threw away plants to prepare for an upgraded garden. As it stands now, Wig Wag more closely resembles the overgrown and empty lot next to it rather than the urban Eden it once was.
“We need to find a way of being a community garden,” Santos says as he shifts in his chair. He suffers from neuropathy in his feet, a disease linked to diabetes that causes numbness and loss of sensitivity. Santos’ own hope for Wig Wag’s future? “To stay there, all the while, up until I die,” he says.