Green Team Helps Build Cob Oven at El Monte Garden

Green Team Helps Build Cob Oven at El Monte Garden
The La Madera Community Garden is the first and only garden of its kind in El Monte.
Regenerative Studies grad student Eric Zentmyer (center) works on the cob oven.
The Cal Poly Pomona Green Team helped build the cob oven at the garden.

On an oddly shaped parcel off a busy street in El Monte lies a quaint community garden that is growing faster than summer squash in the sun.

Thanks in part to the Cal Poly Pomona Green Team, the La Madera Community Garden now features an outdoor wood oven and barbecue where tillers of the land can enjoy roasting peppers, baking pizza or basically any other recipe.

“Most people who use the garden live within walking distance at a huge apartment complex where they don't have room to grow anything,” says Eric Zentmyer, a Cal Poly Pomona Regenerative Studies grad student and co-founder of the garden. “However, there are also a few Cal Poly Pomona students who plan to use the garden for research projects.”

The community garden is the first and only in the city of El Monte. Zentmyer established the garden in the summer of 2005 with local community activists Cathie Chavez and Nathan Springer. The three met while they were involved with Amigos de los Rios, which is a San Gabriel Valley-based non-profit that assists disadvantaged communities plan and build parks that protect the environment as well as enhance living conditions.

El Monte City Attorney Clarke Moseley and his mother Virginia Moseley have allowed them to use their 1/3-acre property near Ramona Boulevard along La Madera Avenue for the garden, Zentmyer says.  

People can plant on small plots for an annual $30 fee, which covers the cost water. Most residents grow vegetables, herbs and flowers, and about 1/3 of the property is still available for individual gardens.

The La Madera Community Garden is nestled among a mixed-use neighborhood close to a fast food restaurant, a federal halfway house, single- and multi-family homes and an assisted living facility.

“The neighborhood has really embraced the garden,” Zentmyer says. “We haven't had any vandalism and no one's tomatoes are getting stolen.”

Over the course of a few weekends this fall, Zentmyer, who is vice president of Cal Poly Pomona's Green Team, and other members of the environmental club helped build a cob oven and barbecue at the site.

Cob is a type of building material similar to adobe that has been used for hundreds of years in England. It is made with clay, straw and sand, Zentmyer says. The oven is a light brown, rounded hollow mass on several cinderblocks.

“People plan to make pizza and bread,” he says.

On Jan. 20 at 11 a.m., members of the Green Team plan to participate in a firing party at the garden where the earthen oven will be used for the first time.

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