PICTURE: Stone worker Vincent Amorosino at the Museum of Ventura County. Photo courtesy David Goldstein

by David Goldstein

This summer, the Museum of Ventura County will have a new outdoor exhibit and meeting room in the previously empty area across from Santa Clara Street. On Monday, Vincent Amorosino, a local stonemason and artist, dragged the last of a pile of scattered boulders into place, most of which he had previously shaped into large raised bed planters.

The planters, which are filled with a mixture of local soil and compost from Agromin and enriched with compost tea from Ojai’s Center for Regenerative Agriculture, will grow the Indian “three sisters” cultures. Some of these three plants, consisting of corn, beans, and pumpkin, will eventually be replaced by perennials and medicinal plants traditionally used by the Chumash people.

Amorosino and the other artists on the project, Jason Brock and Kevin Carman, work for Art City, a stone courtyard, sculpture studio, art gallery and garden on Ventura’s Westside owned by renowned local artist Paul Lindhard. Lindhard makes monumental stone installations in the US, but his latest vision, which is getting in shape this week at the Museum of Ventura County, uses stones, some of which were originally part of the Ventura Mission’s orchard walls, to frame plants. In addition to the raised bed cultures, sunflowers will line the south wall of the museum and pumpkin plants will flow from conical planters.

Art City Studios and the Ventura County Compost Network worked with the museum to coordinate this exhibition, which was originally intended as a competition in which nine participants competed for a prize by growing the largest sunflowers. As the project developed, the organizers realized that a cooperative, collaborative workforce, including volunteers, closely supervised by experienced gardeners, would be better suited. Gardeners will continue to follow organic farming practices.

Denise Sindelar, the museum’s assistant director, said the museum worked with these community groups to initiate this project as part of an effort to turn a long-neglected space into an educational attraction and community resource. She said the outdoor areas of the museum will open on June 3rd and the indoor galleries are expected to open on July 1st.

The focus of this exhibit is the soil itself, as the compost is mostly obtained from Ventura County’s own garden cuttings. Agromin takes garden cuttings from curb carts collected by EJ Harrison and Sons and other recycling shippers and turns that waste into mulch and compost in locations near Oxnard, Simi Valley, and locations outside the county. Using the compost mixed with local soil and other material to produce crops and beautiful flowers makes the activity not only an artistic statement, but also an opportunity for community education and enjoyment.

In addition to promoting compost through this activity and exhibit, the Museum of Ventura County makes compost from leftover food at its Santa Paula branch, the Museum of Agriculture. “We have three compost bins (two plastic bales, one bale of straw) in which we recycle a large part of our vegetable cuttings and cuttings from our home gardens,” said Elena Waller, director of the Agricultural Museum. Additional garden clippings from the museum grounds will be collected by Athens Services in Santa Paula and moved to another location for composting.

The Agriculture Museum also has a worm box purchased through the Ventura City’s vermicompost bin discount program and uses it to turn leftover food from their break room into a high quality soil improvement. “The University of California’s Master Gardeners are responsible for feeding our squirmy friends,” said Waller. The master gardeners also take care of the vegetable garden and maintain 13 raised beds with plants at the Santa Paula location.

With the reopening of the museum in June, employees and lecturers at the Santa Paula site will be available to answer questions about the gardens on Wednesday morning. Currently, the master gardeners work Wednesdays from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m., and during the pandemic, people came to the museum gate to ask questions while observing social distance requirements. On June 16, 9-10: 30 a.m., a workshop at the Agriculture Museum (926 Railroad Ave., Santa Paula) will look at maintaining a vegetable garden, including information on composting. Reservations are required through the Master Gardener website; Visit ucanr.edu/survey/survey.cfm?surveynumber=34927.




David Goldstein is an Environmental Resource Analyst with the Ventura County Public Works Agency and can be reached at 805-658-4312 or [email protected]