A Voice in the NELA Wilderness: Soil from Coffee Grounds, Water from the Air Conditioner

2018 A Voice in the NELA Wilderness August Christopher Nyerges Editions

I recently noticed a new flower bed behind Antigua Bread, the coffeehouse/bakery at 5703 N. Figueroa St. Where there once had been weeds and trash was a beautiful wood-framed garden bed, approximately 6-by-6 feet, with colorful flowers, some vegetables – and a five-gallon plastic bucket strapped to a tall wooden pole and connected by a tube to the roof.

I went inside and found Dennis Hernandez, who started Antigua Bread in 2007 with his brother, Miguel. The brothers, who came to the United States from Guatemala in 1990, named the shop for the place of their birth, Antigua (now Guatemala City). 

I asked Dennis to explain the garden and with a big smile he said, “You need to talk to Miguel.”

When I met with Miguel the next day, he told me that he had wanted to do something with the unsightly little space at the rear of the coffeehouse. So, with encouragement and help from his daughter, Kathy, he built the sturdy-framed garden and filled the raised bed with used coffee grounds.

“It’s a really good way to recycle the grounds,” he said. Antigua also gives away some used grounds to gardeners and mushroom growers and is always looking for new uses for used grounds.

As for the bucket, the pole and the tube, Miguel smiled broadly as he explained: The air conditioning for Antigua constantly drips out water, he said, so he runs a tube from the AC to the bucket and, from there, the water drips down and irrigates the garden. 

At first, Miguel wasn’t sure if the AC condensation would be sufficient to water the garden. To his surprise, water from the AC system filled the bucket at least three times a day, and up to five times during hot weather. “There is so much water coming off the AC that I fill overflow bottles and take them home for irrigation,” he said.

The garden, which also has a small solar lamp and a bird bath, is a great example of what anyone can do – even in an urban environment – to help save and recycle resources.

The Hernandez brothers also recycle cans in which they receive certain food items. In hot weather, they set out water in bowls for pets and a water jug and cups for passers-by.

“If we do these things, maybe others will, too,” said Miguel, “and we’ll all make a difference to our community.” 


Christopher Nyerges is the manager of the Old L.A. Farmers Market in Highland Park. He is the author of “Self-Sufficient Home” and other books. He can be reached at SchoolofSelf-Reliance.com.

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