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A walk in the park that's all about agriculture

Orange County's newest tourist attraction offers a new perspective on farming


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Photo courtesy of Orange County Great Park

For most urban dwellers, opportunities to see agriculture up close are few and far between. But at Orange County's newest tourist attraction, visitors can get a new perspective on farming simply by taking a walk in the park, so to speak!

The Orange County Great Park is being built on a decommissioned U.S. Marines base in Irvine and, in a rarity in California, farming is returning to the land after a nearly 70-year absence. Before becoming a home to the Marines, this particular area was a thriving farming area and, in fact, was home to America's largest lima bean field. Today, organizers envision it as home to one of America's largest parks.

The former Marine Corps Air Station El Toro is being transformed into what planners hope will be the first great metropolitan park of the century. Located in the geographic center of Orange County—halfway between Los Angeles and San Diego—the Great Park is easily accessible to more than 10 million Southern California residents via freeway or railway.

Spanning more than 1,300 acres (nearly twice the size of New York's Central Park), the Great Park's master plan embraces environmental sustainability, preserves Orange County's agricultural heritage and honors the military history of the former air base. The park will feature such areas as a wildlife corridor, botanical garden and veterans memorial in years to come.

Now in its first stages of construction, the park offers several attractions for young and old to enjoy, including a food truck alley with trucks from all over Southern California. And continuing on the food theme, the park has earmarked 114 acres for farmland for the future. Some farmers have gotten a head start on things and have begun leasing land to farm now, including A.G. Kawamura. The former secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture grows everything from strawberries to carrots to lima beans, and he's delivering his produce to urbanites by way of another Great Park attraction: a weekly farmers market.              


Photo courtesy of Orange County Great Park

In addition to being sold at the farmers market, some of the produce is provided to those in need. Since the market's debut in late 2010, nearly 1 million pounds of produce have been donated to local food banks.

If folks are itching to try their hand at growing their own food, they can head over to the Farm and Food Lab, where master gardeners demonstrate how easy it is to have a green thumb! Visitors can get a hands-on gardening experience in themed planters with fruits, flowers, vegetables and herbs. A Pizza and Spaghetti Garden, for example, shows how ingredients and toppings look before they are made into sauces. Other themes include a Fruit Salad Garden and a Sensory Garden.

While park organizers respect the agricultural legacy of the past, they are also keen on keeping an eye toward the future: Citrus gardens and community gardens are in the works. And the best part is, you can see all the future projects and current attractions from atop the park's most famous feature, the Great Orange Balloon, which soars 400 feet in the air to offer a true bird's-eye view.

For more information about the Orange County Great Park, visit www.ocgp.org.


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