Bounty from community gardens

Part 1 LA Research Journey.

The first part of the trip is centred around visiting and locating gardens, urban agriculture  projects of interest and meeting the people behind these projects.

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Wildflowering is a work by Fritz Haeg in association with  LAND in which 50 sites, public, civic and private gardens across LA have been designated areas for planting native Califonian wildflowers. Replacing lawns and sidewalk grass with edible or plants, natives with biodiversity benefits is an important act or re-wilding our environment and planting more hardy plants which depend less on constant watering.

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Gardens visited included…

  1. Pasadena Community Garden with Ron Garretson and Cathy Morrison (54 plots, traditional family-style community garden)
  2.  Arlington Community Garden in Pasadena (mostly citrus orchard and natives, guerrilla gardening by a local couple)
  3.  Mott Street Urban Farm at the East LA Learning Center in Boyle Heights (LACGC’s first attempt at a true urban farm that produces efficiently for local distribution, straw wattle terracing)
  4.  Stanford-Avalon Community Garden (200 Latino farmers with a 30 foot square plot each, the garden takes up 11 city blocks under LADWP power lines, many farmers came from the South Central Farm at 41st  and Alameda about which a documentary was made — see http://www.ask.com/wiki/South_Central_Farm?o=2801&qsrc=999&ad=doubleDown&an=apn&ap=ask.com.)
  5. Florence-Firestone Community Gardens (2 plots in residential neighborhood in LA County)
  6.  Solano Canyon Community Garden (2 acres on a hillside next to the “River of Steel” freeway, community plots, farmed area, orchard, and educational area with cob benches under construction)
  7. Milagro Allegro Community Garden in Highland Park (traditional, family plots, decorative fence, sink, grafitti/mural nearby)
  8. Eagle Rockdale Community Garden (mosaic sign at entrance, painted benches with quotes, totem poles)
  9. Jardin del Rio in Elysian Valley, near Atwater Village. (decorative gate, birdhouse mailboxes for each gardener, near the bike path along the LA River)
  10. Elysian Valley Community Garden, near Atwater Village. (Traditional family-style garden on private land, fun signage)
  11.  Glassell Park Community Garden on Drew Street, close to Atwater Village (former crackhouse converted to CG, now former gang members volunteer here — see http://articles.latimes.com/2011/apr/10/local/la-me-drew-street-garden-20110410)
  12. Wattles Farm in West Hollywood (our oldest garden that has been leased to LACGC by the City of West Hollywood for 40+ years, approx. 200 gardeners, many are first generation Russian immigrants — see their website at http://www.wattlesfarm.com)
  13. Manzanita Community Garden (LACGC smallest garden that shows effective use of an urban slope)

During the residency I wanted to get a sense of land use. Looking at how community gardens and edible land projects outside the artwork / public art category function and how they filter and enhance a sense of place, community or outlook.  What are there qualities and in a time where the UK seems to want to develop more edible land projects in response to food prices, the need for shared community space and in the fight against the erosion of the commons, the urbanising, privatisation of public spaces. What can these projects and initiatives offer– what are their possibilities within a political framework as anti corporate zones and is it even useful to be looking at them in this way at all.  Social history of garden projects…

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Within the gardens visited a wide variety of uses and methods of land use were deployed, depending on the gardeners, the locations, community and socio/economic factors, their location and the gardeners. The California climate ensures all year round production as well as high water rates but partnerships, land loaning and management, heritage laws and clauses mean that often these contested sites are safeguarded against development as they not only provide a key part of developing a sense of place but are also feeding many people in more ways than one.  It also means that financial institutions banks such as Wells Fargo end up gifting land temporarily to communities in order to provide growing spaces on plots of land repossessed from families. How do these sites and incubator projects fit into a larger gentrifying context or are they spaces of freedom where, irrelevant to the benefactors knowledge communities are doing what communities have always done.

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Pasadena Community Garden is a project where land was rented to the city and then accessed by gardeners. Providing some educational and outreach projects it has ambitions to become a center of educational outdoor learning which they hope to replicate on other derelict or unused land. Some 45 bed provide growing space for families and local people all within waking distance of the site.  Costing $50,000 each bed is equipped with its own water point and the garden is a large, safe site with two communal sheds and aspirations to work with the hospital opposite on a palliative care and staff outreach project.

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At the amazing Stanford-Avalon Community Garden, the plots provide growing spaces on a commercial and personal / family level, with the gardens providing a much needed opportunity to bring in extra income. This south side of the city is also a ‘food dessert’ – with no stores selling fresh affordable produce the area is plagued by fast food outlets and the only stores available are convenience stores whose main trade is in alcohol and tobacco, so these gardens provide vital green space to the community. At the moment selling your crop from the back of your car is not regulated but let’s people develop alternative economic systems.  Start up grants for projects and gardens here are around $2-3,000.

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One garden visited is supplying a local liquor store with Kale and other produce which is a great intervention. As foods like Kale get ‘super’ status and become available at Starbucks in a smoothie, in a food desert it’s a great way to find alternative supply and demand routes and cut out the chain store.

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Wattles Organic Community Farm in West Hollywood was established in 1978 and is a garden for 300 members with a 172 plots in one of the most expensive parts of the  city. The land was bequeathed by Gurdon Wattles, a businessman and banker from Omaha, Nebraska who opened his estate and gardens to the public in 1907. The transformation of the 4.2 acres into an organic community garden began in 1975, through the initiative of Mayor Tom Bradley’s community gardening program.  Wattles Farm was one of the first gardens in the city created under this program.  Sorely neglected for years, the property was revitalized by a small handful of thirty volunteers who cleared heavy brush and weeds, dug up stumps, put in plumbing, and established the first plots.  They also worked to resurrect the one hundred forty-one surviving avocado trees.

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Although in West Hollywood the garden provides growing space for people who live all over the city and travel to the site to garden together. Signage is in Russian and English.  Toby the chair of the garden showed us around with great enthusiasm and warmth, sampling blood oranges, avocados and persimmon flowers as we walked through groves of all spice, curry plants, lavender and citrus bushes. The avocado orchard provides a deep shade, these trees are the pride of the site and a living archive of the garden, some of which are over 100 years old, under which tables and benches are placed and the wilder edges of the garden create important wildlife corridors and habitat right next to Sunset Boulevard traffic.

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Garden podcasts of visits to follow…

Later in the trip I will meet with orgainsations and a rooftop gardening initiative growing food for homeless shelters and food banks.

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