For Larry Lamoreux, growing vegetables is like going back to his roots.

His parents were raised on family farms. They raised Larry and his sister on 1.5 acres that is now part of Fremont. His mother always had a garden, and Larry raised Berkshire hogs as a member of Future Farmers of America while in high school.

Now, after a career in medical prosthetic engineering, Larry devotes much of his time to gardening. He grows herbs and vegetables in his back yard plus has a plot at the community garden at Military and East Second Street.

“I’ve always enjoyed working in the dirt. I’ve always had a garden of some type,” says Larry, 75. “It’s a good way to spend time.”

Larry became active with the community garden after he and his wife, May Russell Lamoreux, moved from Lafayette to Benicia eight years ago. He now is treasurer of Benicia Community Gardens Inc.

He also serves on Benicia’s Community Sustainability Commission, volunteers with the garden at Mary Farmar School, is a member of the local Native Plant Society and annually leads a workshop on drip irrigation systems.

A sunny Saturday in late January found Larry working with others to install redwood planter boxes at the First Street garden.

“I’ve found that spending time with people who are attracted to community gardens happens to be one of the joys of my life,” he says with a big smile.

What do you remember about gardening when you were a child?

When I was about 5 years old, we had a Victory Garden that had broccoli. One day I spontaneously ate the head off one bunch, and I knew I shouldn’t have done that. So I went in and told my mother, and she just said, “I grew it for you to eat and if you want to eat it that way, that’s OK.”

That’s always stuck with me. I asked her about it years later, and she didn’t even remember it. But I’ve remembered all my life how relaxed she was about it.

What’s your favorite crop?

Tomatoes are very important to us in our family, and we very much value having tomato puree all through the winter. This year we added some roasted red pepper to it, and we like to have some onions and garlic in it as well. We like to fill the freezer with tomato puree.

What do you plant at home?

Things that are nice to have near your kitchen. We had some nice lemon cucumbers, tomatoes, wonderful carrots, beets, parsnips – my wife doesn’t make any soup without parsnips – parsley, green onions, various herbs.

What will you be planting this spring?

We most certainly will be putting in our tomatoes. We enjoyed our cucumbers, so we’ll put those in, and some beets, parsley. …

We were tickled with the parsnips, so we’ll probably plant parsnips again. Chard. We use a lot of Swiss Chard and we’re just now discovering kale, so we’ll get some more kale started. It’s too late for broccoli. Peas – sugar snap peas – if you have enough sun, you can start them.

What are the first steps for a beginning gardener?

Just come join us and that way you’re not on your own. Kimball Goodman came here (to the community garden) last year and he’d never gardened before. He had a great outcome. When you’re here, you can get ideas of what to plant and how to take care of it.

Are the plots for each gardener’s personal use?

Our tradition since the community garden started 13 years ago is to assign each bed to a person or family and let them do what they want.

Some community gardens have no private beds and raise it all for the community. When the garden is community-oriented, it makes it easier for someone who feels unskilled to come in and learn more about gardening. At our big gardeners meeting in the fall, we talked about growing something for the community, possibly for CAC or the dinners at St. Paul’s church. So that’s why we built the big bed.

There are advantages to both types and we’re trying to combine both models.

How is your gardening linked to your work on the Community Sustainability Commission?

I’m concerned about soil and have been reading a lot about it. I don’t think most people realize everything we eat comes from the soil. Even when we eat meat, the animals eat plants that come from the soil.

But the available soil on earth is decreasing as the number of people is increasing, so we have to produce more and more on less acreage. Chemical fertilizers are seriously damaging the soil. Pesticides work for a while, but then the bugs adapt. …

It’s getting harder and harder, and more and more expensive. This is clearly unsustainable in the long term.

Any books to recommend?

There’s a book, Last Child in the Woods, that I think is excellent. I was raised outdoors. I roamed the hills in Niles Canyon. Once my mom took me for a walk along the creek and we saw 40 different kinds of birds in that one afternoon walking along the creek. I realized when I started working at the school that kids today don’t do that.

What do you do to relax?

Ever since I was a little boy, I longed to be out on the water. I have a canoe and kayak and I can wheel my canoe from my house to the boat ramp and go out paddling.

What have you learned from your time at the community gardens?

You can’t expect to come down here and work steadily. If you come down in the morning for a couple of hours, you have to expect a couple dozen conversations.

The work can always be done, but the conversations over the fence are precious.

Benicia Community Gardens Inc. Locations

• Swenson Garden, established in 1999, is located at East Second and Military East on property owned by Heritage Presbyterian Church

• Avant Garden, located at First and D streets, was dedicated on Oct. 10, 2010. The property is leased on a month-to-month basis.

More than 30 plots are available at the two locations, and about 10 people were on a waiting list as of late January.

“A couple of years ago, we started asking for a donation of $50 a year for water,” says Larry Lamoreux, the organization’s treasurer.  “If anyone is short of money, they can contribute time to the benefit of the garden.”

The organization began operating 1999 under the leadership of the late Dr. Edward Swenson and horticulturist Meg Grumio. She remains under contract with Benicia Community Gardens to assist gardeners.

For information about the availability of plots or to contact the organization, visit the group’s website: