Imagine a colorless world. No greens to nourish, blues to calm, reds to provoke. No rainbows. Not just a visually dull world, but a deficient world, void of hue and empty of character. Not such a happy place.

When screen legend Judy Garland passed away in 1969, homosexuality was still very much a taboo subject, and much of her fan base consisted of people who chose to keep their sexual orientation in the dark rather than risk their jobs and social standing. To safely communicate their identity to one another, they called themselves “Friends of Dorothy” and later adopted the rainbow as a symbol of solidarity and diversity.

Nearly 40 years later, gay men and women face far less discrimination, but as was evident with the passage of Prop 8, they are still not entirely accepted. Frustrated with the continued division of gay and straight cultures, even within the nonprofit arena, a group of friends, formed COLOR (Community Organized for Liberty Opportunity & Respect) a gay-straight alliance dedicated to ending homophobia.

Not afraid to get their hands dirty in the effort to forge lasting gay-straight partnerships, members have been happily toiling away on a vacant lot in downtown Ventura to create the COLOR Garden, with hopes of providing food to Ventura County’s hungry — another misunderstood sector of the population and one that’s growing quickly.

“More than ever, people are relying on food assistance, and we thought this is a way we can take our love of gardening and fresh food, and use it for good and beautify Downtown Ventura at the same time,” said John Wilner, COLOR president.

Just last week, the organic and sustainable garden yielded its first crop of lettuce, which immediately went to FOOD Share. Using the lot, which belongs to Wilner’s mother, as a garden is in keeping with the property’s roots as a seed farm.

With hopes of establishing a community garden where people may rent a bed for their personal use, but ideally will donate a portion of crops to FOOD Share, COLOR is in the process of raising money to pay for 501(c)(3) tax exemption status, fencing and other necessities. The group also plans to partner with master gardeners who will provide education about drip irrigation, organic pest control and soil amendment.

While the COLOR garden is attracting volunteers through word of mouth and Facebook, Wilner says many have taken up shovels after walking or driving by. “We’ve had people from 4 years old to older than 75 out there helping — people from all walks of life.”

It’s important for organizers that this is a holistic effort. “This is not a gay garden, it’s a community garden,” said Wilner. “Just as many straight as gay people are involved with our organization. We don’t discriminate. We are teaching the community and growing organic produce and beautifying downtown Ventura, regardless of our beliefs — religious or otherwise. We can all do something together that benefits everyone.”

To make a donation or join in the fun at the corner of Chestnut and Poli streets, friend the COLOR Garden online by visiting