Essential Workers at Rancho Historic Ranch and Gardens

When you hear the phrase “essential workers,” what comes to mind?

Grocery store employees, first responders and postal workers are among the first to occur to many folks. Rancho Los Alamitos has some other types of essential workers, such as …

Karen Thompson
Livestock Manager

Karen Thompson’s workday begins at 6:00 a.m. When she arrives at the Rancho, she hears the animals communicating with each other, calling for their breakfast. It is a calm, relaxing time without stress but not for long. The intensity increases as she and her assistant work their way through an exercise routine for each animal – horses, sheep and goats. The chickens are free to roam the grounds, eating grubs and insects, helping with pest control, their style of exercise.

Karen first learned about the pandemic at a grocery store. She saw people feverishly loading their grocery carts and discovered that we were facing a “lockdown” due to COVID-19. As people raced to stockpile necessities, Karen worried about food for the animals at the Rancho. She immediately arranged for delivery of a 30-day supply (twice the standard order) and made other contingency plans.

With a heightened awareness of safety during the pandemic, the staff conducts frequent sanitizing of all areas where humans will be present, including around the barnyard. For the animals, nothing is different. They are happy and healthy. Their routine is unbroken. Other essential workers, such as sheep shearers and farriers (hoof care), continue to visit the ranch, performing routine treatments and health checks. 

Karen noted that the staff works diligently to ensure the safety of visitors and volunteers while at the Rancho. They conducted an opening day trial run with docents acting as guests, touring the one-way path through the gardens and barnyard. They made sure that they hadn’t overlooked anything.

Staff and volunteers plan to increase access to more areas of the gardens in the weeks to come.  

Karen encourages families to bring their children to the Rancho, to “disconnect from tech” and get out into nature. Rancho Los Alamitos is a revitalizing and essential place.

Janet Brown Becker
Historic Garden Associate

In mid-March, Janet learned that all staff was to go home and wait for further instructions. The Rancho was “locked down” due to COVID-19. She had a moment of panic, worrying about what would happen to the rancho’s irreplaceable, historic gardens if she and others were not there to maintain them. Fortunately, within 24 hours, a list of essential workers was published and Janet learned that landscapers and gardeners were among them.

Initially, Janet, another part-timer and one full-time worker, took care of the four acres of nationally recognized gardens. Motivated to keep the team safe, they came to work with face masks, sun hats, water bottles and their own food and tools, which they no longer share.

Although an enormous amount of work for such a small number, the garden staff were determined to preserve the landscape. They worked alone, distanced from one another, until early June, when they welcomed back a dozen experienced garden volunteers. The augmented, masked and distanced gardening team now diligently waters, weeds, prunes, cultivates and deadheads the rancho gardens for the delight of daily visitors.

Janet said, “You can quote me. The garden volunteers were clawing at the gate to come back.” Gardening at Rancho Los Alamitos is a healing kind of work, satisfying and peaceful. 

At the time Florence Bixby lived on the site, from 1898 until her death in 1961, she worked to have the place become “inward-looking” so that it became a haven insulated from the outside world. She worked with nationally recognized landscape architects, designers and plantsmen of the day, like the Olmsted Brothers, who developed the guiding plan for California’s state park system, among many other high-profile projects.

Today, rancho guests appreciate the fresh air and open spaces. Several of the outdoor areas at Rancho Los Alamitos are open by reservation for visitors to enjoy Wednesday through Sunday from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is free, but reservations are required. 

Rancho Los Alamitos, the “Ranch of the Little Cottonwoods,” is a Long Beach city landmark and is twice listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The rancho has a continuous history that stretches back for more than 1,500 years and reflects the many people who have called it home – from the first people, the Tongva-Gabrielino, to the European colonists to the American ranchers and farmers of the 19th and 20th centuries. The 7½-acre historic site includes four acres of nationally significant historic gardens, a ranch house (1790-1933) and restored barnyard of the early 20th-century working ranch.

In 1968, the children of Fred and Florence Bixby, the last private owners, donated the family ranch to the City of Long Beach, transforming what had been a working ranch to a public oasis and setting the stage for what Rancho Los Alamitos is today – a place for all time and for everyone.

Children and adults alike are fascinated and delighted when touring the spacious historic site, communing with nature in the lush gardens and visiting with the farm animals (horses, sheep, goats, chickens, ducks and rabbits) in the barns area. Admission and parking are free-of-charge.

The not-for-profit Rancho Los Alamitos Foundation operates the Rancho in a public/private partnership with the City of Long Beach under the Department of Parks, Recreation and Marine.

Submitted by Rancho Los Alamitos

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