Looking down from my balcony across the street from Sueño Orchard, I can see a gorgeous green field, a Garden of Eden in the microcosm of this grungy college world. Only a few days earlier before the first rain of the season, this field was brown and dead, upholding the quirky and “rough around the edges” style of Isla Vista. Low-lying grasses and wild edibles such as dandelions and mallow dominate the scene, punctuated by the fruit trees that give the park its name. A student could eat from this garden year-round for free, although they would most likely need to supplement their diet with a source of protein.
Many of these trees are newly planted and still in their early stages of growth. But there are a few, such as the mulberry and pineapple guava that have probably seen more than 30 years, as witnessed by their thick trunks and gnarled branches. Wandering down the uneven isles of trees, I can pick a few out by name because of their recognizable fruits: peaches and nectarines, apples, pomegranates, and guavas. A few others had fruit I did not recognize, so when I saw Joe and Aaron, the hard working Recreation and Parks employees, across the street working on irrigation, I had to ask. They pointed out kumquats, cherimoya, and mulberries; they even named the other trees that had not yet produced fruit this season: several kinds of citrus, pears and mangos, even an almond tree!
These two men know their way around a garden and have been making efforts to plant native flowers to help local pollinators. They work in parks all throughout Santa Barbara County and are very friendly. You could talk about plants or life, and either way they will tell you something interesting. I would recommend stopping to chat for awhile, they might even offer to take you surfing!
The roots of the park are as eclectic as the space itself. In the 60’s and 70’s, Isla Vista was home to over 60 tipis1. With the UCSB student population rising and rent prices following suit, tipis became a common sight. In the late 70’s, a culmination of tipis on a lot across from what is now Sueño Orchard became known as "Tipi Village”1. Villagers lived an alternative, counter-culture lifestyle, growing and eating food from organic community gardens. Tipi Village was ultimately shut down in 1979 but the sentiment toward organic gardening and community growing remained. Sueño Orchard began in the 1980’s, shortly after the disbanding of Tipi Village2,3. Today, it consists of about 36 fruit trees and locals grow their own plots nearby, many of which have been passed down through generations.
If the free fruit and history hasn’t sold you, think of the dogs! Every day you can see dogs playing between the trees. There is a family who has been around since the orchard began with two golden retrievers, a family with several pups that gathers and sings Christian music on the weekends for the whole street to hear, and of course all of the local IV dogs that students bring into the equation including the many dogs that frequent my apartment complex.
Like many tucked away or forgotten places in Isla Vista, Sueño Orchard is a hidden gem. Sueño, meaning “dream” in Spanish, is a wonderful name for the orchard as it exists as not only the dream of fresh fruit, but the potential for a community-centered, edible environment. Sueño Orchard encourages engagement not only with the physical space, but with broader ideas of urban environments, food access and sustainability. It represents a history of community and involvement with the land. Take a walk to Sueño Orchard, eat its fruit and join its legacy.