CityWatch, Nov 30, 2010
Vol 8 Issue 95
Cities in crisis tend to look at community gardens as a solution, an opportunity to feed those in need, particularly low-income and traditionally underrepresented families. In addition to improving nutrition by increasing access to fresh produce, community gardens have a positive economic, social, and educational impact on the neighborhood, resulting in stronger communities and a cleaner, greener city. But not in Los Angeles.
The City of Los Angeles tends to look at the seven community gardens operated by the Department of Rec and Parks as liabilities, prompting its shortsighted proposal to increase user fees that will take the rental of a 10-by-20-foot plot from $25 to $120 as of January 1, 2011.
The Sepulveda Garden Center in Encino is one of the largest community gardens operated on City of LA property with approximately 800 garden plots on 20 acres of land. Garden farmers recently turned out in mass to protest the rate hikes, arguing that the impact on the seniors citizens "is like trying to squeeze blood from a turnip."
The Wattles Farm in Hollywood is one of the oldest community gardens operated on City of LA property with approximately 300 garden plots on just over 4 acres of land. Farmers point out that in addition to maintaining over 200 varieties of fruit trees and a 100-year-old grove of avocado trees, they have improved public safety, bringing security to a neighborhood that was prone to vandalism and trespassing.
The 75 community gardens in the greater Los Angeles area vary dramatically in style, in purpose, and in impact on the surrounding neighborhood. "Guerrilla Gardens" sprout on orphaned public land, created anonymously by guerrilla gardeners who clean the area, cultivate the soil, plant low-maintenance ground cover and engage neighbors in an effort to create community.
"Educational Gardens" on school property are practical tools that engage students in real world lessons that range from science to sociology to economics to nutrition to administration. 200 students at North Hollywood High School work year-round on seven acres of urban farm, home to the Cocoxochitl Flower Farm, a vineyard, an orchard, rose gardens, chickens, rabbits, one 300 pound pig and over 5,000 dahlias. The students sell their harvest at the nearby Hollywood Farmer's Market.
"Public Safety Gardens" reclaim abandoned lots and bring the community together with a common purpose that results in a safer neighborhood. Property values go up when the chain link fencing comes down.
"Social Gardens" offer people of different walks and skills the opportunity to share in a common goal, resulting in a pollination of cultures and the establishment of relationships that transcend traditional boundaries. Good for the garden, great for the neighborhood.
"Victory Gardens" offer low-income neighborhoods an opportunity to put healthy food on the table during tough economic times in the same tradition as during WWII when America produced 40% of its produce in back yard gardens. A minimal investment in community gardens has a maximum economic impact on the community and contributes to self-reliance.
Community Gardens occur in neighborhoods throughout LA County, some rich, some poor, some edible, some decorative, some public, some private, some meditative, some celebrative. They vary as much as the people that farm them. The one thing they have in common is that they are dirt cheap do-it-yourself solutions that enrich the lives of everybody and require only minimal support from the city.
Community Gardens are the type of land-use phenomenon that the City of Los Angeles should be promoting, not discouraging. Any minimal financial benefit to be realized by increasing the community garden fees pales in comparison to the benefits that a community garden brings to the neighborhood and to the city.
The City of LA's current assault on community gardening is just the latest in a long series of shortsighted budget solutions that consist of increasing the cost of living in Los Angeles while simultaneously reducing the benefits.
Now is the time to support the people of Los Angeles as they reclaim land, grow food, educate youth, connect people, and encourage healthy lifestyles. The City of LA's "penny wise, dollar foolish" behavior must stop and its long term investment in the people of LA must start with the gardens that feed those with the greatest need.
(Stephen Box is a grassroots advocate and writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at: Stephen@thirdeyecreative.net. Disclosure: Box is also a candidate for 4th District Councilman.)