Two Local Residents Who are Making a Difference

Kat and family
Kat Juarez and her family by her library.


Retired food scientist Ron Gabel of Parr Avenue in Sunland has an interesting hobby. For several years now, he has been creating new varieties of plants from seeds and cuttings, then giving them away to his neighbors.

“If you look at a neighborhood where there are no plants growing,” said Gabel, “it really looks drab. But in neighborhoods where people care for their plants, it really beautifies the place. When I grow these things, I do it in excess – it’s something I like to do. In doing so, I have more than I possibly could deal with myself. My original intent was to see what it takes to sprout them and propagate them to spread them around. This is one of the primary directives of life on this planet. I feel like I’m helping Mother Nature a little bit.”

Gabel’s homegrown varieties have included flowering plants, edible plants and crossbreeds, born out of years of experimental planting, such as the amaryllis. Gabel has produced several hundred of these lily-like plants that flower on a spike every spring.

“It takes four to five years from seed to bloom,” said Gabel. “Some are first-time hybrids that have never been seen before.”

Ron and plant
Ron Gabel gives away the plants he grows.

About four years ago, Gabel began donating some of his drought-tolerant plants to anyone who wanted them by putting out a small sign on the front of his property that read “free plants.”  One by one, they started disappearing as neighbors and people walking and driving by started noticing them. Some of the plants he gives away are indigenous to California and all grow well in this climate, such as agave, cacti, Italian stone pine trees, tomato plants, bamboo and his favorite, amaryllis.

Raised in Chicago, Gabel says it was his grandmother who got him interested in plants when he was a child and this interest stayed with him. He remembered planting seeds from an orange that he ate, which actually germinated and actually lived for a while in a pot. When he moved to California in 1977, he decided to fulfill his childhood dream by growing the sub-tropical fruits that he loves.

To those who are interested in experimenting with rare and unusual plants, Gabel suggests saving some of those seeds found in the fruits and veggies. Instead of tossing them away, poke them in a pot of soil and see what kind of plant is produced. The roots of ginger, taro and sweet potatoes are very much alive and will grow into interesting patio plants. Fruits like cherimoya, all the stone fruits, apples, pears and citrus fruits have seeds that will sprout if planted in some ordinary soil and watered regularly.

Advised Gabel, “Don’t be afraid to try planting things. The beauty of planting collected seeds is that they are naturally crossbred and you could end up with a plant or fruit far better than the parent plant.”

In nearby Tujunga, Katherine Juarez is focused on giving her two sons, ages 4 and 6, the gift of literacy. As a working mom who likes to read books to her kids every night but didn’t have time to go to the library regularly, Juarez began looking for a way to open her own library last year. She found it online with the Little Free Libraries movement that enables those who want to read a lot to register and operate their own lending library. The library works on an honor system where anyone can check out books from her library by signing a form. They can also drop off their own books to pay it forward. Juarez estimated that her Little Free Library holds up to 30 titles. As new books come in, she reviews each one to ensure they are appropriate and contribute to her cause.

“I started my Little Free Library because I wanted to bring my community together,” said Juarez who lives on Wentworth Avenue in Tujunga. “I think it’s very important to read and to have a steady stream of books available for my kids. It also gives me a feeling of safety knowing that I have neighbors who like to read and are willing to participate in a small library, keeping it full at all times.”

While bringing the community together for reading is her current goal, Juarez said she might like to also host a book “reading day” sometime in the future.

Juarez moved from an apartment in Glendale to her first home in Tujunga with her family five years ago. She credits her husband, Gabriel, and sons Roman and Adrian as her motivating factors for trying to build a sense of togetherness in the Sunland-Tujunga community.