Rarely do you encounter someone who is the essence of goodness but Dan McCollister, in my humble opinion, is such a person. There is also an undeniable genuineness about him and the fact that he comes from Omaha, Nebraska, may have something to do with it. Midwesterners, after all, do have a reputation for being authentic and down to earth.
McCollister’s mission in life is to give. He doesn’t say this but his resume proves it. Doing my own research, I learned that he founded and, for the past nine years, has helped lead a great books reading program at a Valley home for troubled youth and gang members and, in addition, currently works as an activity director for autistic teens.
McCollister’s profile on a networking website says it best: “I am energetic and creative and am truly activated when helping others.” Actually, this could probably be an apt description for many of us, especially gardeners, who are known for their indiscriminate generosity, happily giving away home grown produce not only to neighbors and friends, but to total strangers as well.
“Come on by and I’ll pick you some arugala,” he offered after we had spoken on the phone for less than a minute. His crops grow inches away from the sidewalk in front of his house and once, when he opened his front door, he saw someone examining his tomatoes. The startled passerby jumped back but McCollister just smiled at him and said, “hey man, take a tomato, please!”
It’s an undeniable, if ironic, fact of life that the surest way to feel helped and supported is to help and support someone else. It is why people suffering from depression or trauma may be healed by spending time in the garden and then giving away the flowers and fruits of their labors.
McCollister’s enthusiasm for life in general has been increasingly channeled into growing crops in particular. He began to garden only three years ago but his raised beds, attractively surrounded by neatly aligned planks of Douglas fir and filled with leafy winter vegetables, make his efforts appear to be those of a veteran gardener.
When I asked him where he learned to garden, he said “on the computer.” He has been assisted, in particular, by the gardening lessons offered at growingyourgreens.com, a youtube website. With more than 300,000 subscribers, it is the most popular gardening website and contains hundreds of how-to videos for growing food in front and backyards just like yours and mine. The founder and host of the site, John Kohler, recently did a one hour segment on McCollister which you can find by typing “raised bed garden tour and tips at an urban homestead in LA” into your search engine.
McCollister admits to “evangelical” zeal in his attempts to make anyone and everyone into an urban farmer. But instead of sitting down at a bar and exhorting the stranger next to him to become a believer as a sure path to heaven, McCollister will put his oratorical energy into persuading his anonymous barmate to simply become a gardener.
McCollister employs a large yellow sign next to his front sidewalk as a proselytizing tool. The message on the sign shouts: ASK ME HOW TO START YOUR OWN GARDEN! McCollister regularly offers free gardening classes to one and all. “It’s a place where long-haired hippies and clean cut conservatives can get together,” he enthuses. “Everything is so divisive right now but I can get along with someone who votes different from me because we both love growing food and we can get together on that.” McCollister is open to your visiting his garden at 19802 Victory Boulevard in Woodland Hills and his email address is [email protected]
McCollister is working on an app called cropswap. The idea is that gardeners will trade crops with each other. For example, let’s say you have more lemons than you could ever use but would really like some oranges. Through the app, you would find someone nearby who had an excess of oranges but a lack of lemons and coordinate a swap. You can view the app at cropswapapp.com.
Tip of the Week: McCollister makes his compost using the so-called lasagna technique. What this means is that he alternates a layer of green material with a layer of brown. The greens consist of fruit and vegetable peels and scraps from his kitchen while the browns come from ground up bark and wood dumped on his driveway by a tree trimmer. He says all you need to do is call a tree trimmer in your area. The savings from having to go to the city dump make it highly desirable for the tree trimmer to use your driveway as a place to deposit the trimmings instead. Your brown layers will be thicker than your greens. To keep your pile hot, you will need to add water to keep it moist and turn it over every now and then. The purpose of turning it over is to keep it aerated so that oxygen, which stimulates aerobic, decomposing bacteria, can circulate throughtout the pile.