Environmental Quality / 2013
A Garden of Hope A South LA Oasis of locally produced Vegetables and Fruits
Idea submitted in the My LA2050 Maker Challenge by Los Angeles Neighborhood Land Trust (LANLT), Leadership for Urban Renewal (LURN), TRUST South LA, Konkuey Design Initiative (KDI), Esperanza Community Housing Corporation, Community Health Councils (CHC)
Los Angeles Neighborhood Land Trust will transform an empty nuisance lot, located in a “food desert” in one of LA’s most park-poor areas, into an oasis of healthy food, community green space and economic opportunity. An urban fruit orchard, park and neighborhood farm stand—managed by residents and featuring produce grown by community garden members—will bring fresh foods and a safe place to exercise to a community severely lacking in both.
The project site is a 1-acre abandoned lot at 10500 S. Normandie Avenue, Los Angeles 90044. This is a park-poor unincorporated area of LA County in a zip code where: 54% of annual household incomes are below $25,000; 54% of residents are Latino; 45% are African American; Almost 40% live below the poverty line; 29% have less than a 9th grade education; 41% are under 19; and there are 0.01 park acres per 1,000 people (Predominately white LA neighborhoods enjoy 31.8 acres of park space per 1,000 people).
This densely populated, underserved community does not come close to meeting the National Recreation and Parks Association’s recommendation of 10 acres of park space per 1,000 residents. The area is also what is known as a food desert. The majority of residents are more than 1 mile from a supermarket and most food available is packaged and processed, similar to those offerings found at convenience stores and gas stations. This inequitable distribution of green space and food access is a pressing urban and environmental justice issue which we are addressing with this project.
We recently acquired the site through a donation from LA County and have already secured funds to construct 40 4x8 community garden beds and plant half the trees needed for an urban fruit orchard. As part of First 5 LA's "Little Green Fingers" program, we are building a "tot trail" (walk/bike/trike area) and learning garden designed for children 0-5 and their family members.
An LA2050 award would allow us to develop the whole site and serve the entire community by bringing open green space and fresh produce. A farm stand will offer fruits, vegetables and herbs grown by local farmers and members of the 40-bed community garden. Those without the time or ability to care for their own plot will still enjoy healthy, low-cost foods and interact with farmers and growers. An urban fruit orchard will provide additional farm stand offerings and a beautiful landscape with plenty of shade. A storage container with a cistern and solar panels will minimize energy needs. Open green space with picnic tables and a climbing wall will provide play and exercise opportunities and respite from the urban environment.
Land Trust Community Organizers will work with residents to form a stewardship committee to assist in maintaining and caring for the site. Resident gardeners will be able to earn extra income by selling their produce and take classes in financial literacy and entrepreneurship. The farm stand will be open to the public. The management of the farm stand will offer additional economic opportunities. A farm manager will partner with external farmers within a 50-mile radius, coordinate food delivery and lead outreach and education efforts, including offering financial classes to resident gardeners. This could include the creation of a farm-box program, wherein subscribers would receive a weekly package of produce and educational materials on how to store and prepare them. In the future, the farm manager could facilitate programs in gardening, nutrition and cooking, bringing together local students, seniors from the senior housing across the street, and those involved with the children's garden. A farm stand assistant will offer support during the farm stand’s hours of operation.
LA2050 funds would be used to: complete the urban fruit orchard; build and maintain a farm stand (with scales, crates, storage, etc.); create farm manager and farm stand assistant positions; and offer financial training.
The Garden of Hope- A South LA Green Oasis will impact the environmental quality of the South LA community by adding a 1-acre green space to this extremely park-poor area. This will have a profound effect on the health of the physical landscape, people and natural habitat.
The natural surfaces will reduce the local heat island effect, counteracting the atmospheric heat caused by the surrounding concrete and other heat-retaining, non-reflective surfaces. Plants and trees will improve air quality and offer permeable surfaces to clean water as it flows to the ocean, reducing urban runoff and pollution. Plant life will attract animals in an otherwise concrete environment, providing a unique urban habitat.
Residents will gain: a safe green space to play, exercise and relax; improved air quality; access to fresh produce; and the ability to transform their neighborhood on social and economic levels.
What are some of your organization’s most important achievements to date?
The Land Trust’s most important achievements to date are the creation of 10 parks and gardens in the most underserved areas of LA, adding four acres of green space in 11 years. Our mission is to build healthier, stronger and safer neighborhoods through the creation of urban parks and community gardens. We are dedicated to bringing accessible, recreational green spaces to LA’s most park-poor areas. Through grassroots organizing, community leadership development, and programming, we empower residents in low-income areas to transform their neighborhoods through action, involvement and ownership. This unique and highly effective business model delivers parks and gardens where they are needed most, eliminating bureaucracy and assuring long-term sustainability. Based on census tract data, we currently serve approximately 21,240 residents annually with our parks and gardens, and will add the equivalent of seven football fields of green space by 2015.
In 2012, we completed six projects, including: building two new parks (Fox & Laurel Park & Community Garden, set to open summer 2013); a new children’s community garden (Mariposa-Nabi); a community garden at an existing park (Unidad); and a major remodel of another garden (MC Francis). Through a tax default process for non-profits, we were able to purchase an existing garden (Glazer) and protect it from public auction. We worked with committee members to hold 50 community meetings, 15 cleanups and 10 community-led events, and offered leadership training and educational and recreational programming.
In a general sense, our most important achievement is the creation and implementation of a unique methodology. We emphasize grassroots organizing and community involvement in the creation and management of our spaces. We work with the community to identify vacant land in low-income areas for future park and garden sites. Properties are acquired fee-simple or leased and held in perpetuity to ensure protection of the site. Outreach is performed in the surrounding ¼ mile, mobilizing nonprofits, schools, parents, health clinics and community groups. Meetings are held to see if residents want a park and what facilities they desire. Community Organizers help residents create a park stewardship committee, identify neighborhood needs and train volunteers to spearhead planning, development and maintenance. Whether the goal is to grow fresh foods, provide after-school activities or create a place of beauty, projects fulfill community needs. Our management approach ensures long-term community involvement, proper maintenance and stewardship.
Please identify any partners or collaborators who will work with you on this project.
South Central Farmers, an LA-based non-profit organization, will offer guidance, mentorship and possibly training to the farm manager and farm stand assistant. Our additional partners will include: LA Conservation Corps, The Better World Group, LA Community Garden Council, and UC Cooperative Extension.
Our project has strong support from LA County Supervisor Mark-Ridley-Thomas (SD2), the community, local businesses, schools and senior centers.
Please explain how you will evaluate your project. How will you measure success?
Success will be measured by: the completion of the 105th & Normandie Green Oasis Community Farm Stand, Urban Fruit Orchard and Park site; the hiring of a farm manager and farm stand assistant; the opening and continued operation of the farm stand; and the community revenue generated by the farm stand.
The long-term result will be the empowerment of the community to create an infrastructure of stakeholders invested in community improvement, leading to increased health, safety and quality of life. Success will be based on important milestones in the community organizing, development, construction and implementation stages. The project will be managed through the various milestones, culminating in the opening of the site.
Our evaluation will include working closely with the community throughout the planning and development stages of the project to ensure it meets neighborhood needs. We will evaluate the success of this process by delivering the green space to the community with the support of the farm manager and farm stand assistant.
We will collect quantitative and qualitative information to ensure we are maximizing the project’s capacity to be a force for positive change. Community Organizers will conduct a year-end assessment to evaluate programming, partnerships, maintenance and community safety. This evaluation will inform goal setting and strategies for the following year.
How will your project benefit Los Angeles?
Negative impacts of living in a park-poor community include increased health problems and decreased quality of life. A new study found that 36% of LA children are overweight and the city’s Latino and African-American populations have higher than average rates of obesity. The cause is clearly related to the fact that they do not have access to fresh foods or safe places to exercise and recreate. Parks, gardens and farm stands play a fundamental role in the well-being of communities, providing places to play, to exercise and to access fresh produce.
Public health studies of urban communities have found that parks and gardens provide residents positive and cumulative health benefits including: lower rates of obesity and diabetes; lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels; fewer minor medical complaints; lower self-reported stress levels; lower rates of crime and domestic violence; and improved air and water quality. Children living within 2/3 of a mile from a park can be up to 500% more likely to have a healthy weight, and exposure to nature can reduce stress by almost 1/3. However, without the Land Trust project, the underserved community surrounding 105th & Normandie will have little opportunity to reap these health and social benefits.
Our project will provide a 1-acre green space, transforming a food desert into a neighborhood green oasis, providing a plentiful source of fresh, healthy food. We estimate serving 3,000 to 5,000 annually. Residents will have easy access to inexpensive, local and seasonal produce that can be used as the foundation for a healthy lifestyle. Children will benefit from an early introduction to healthy eating and the farm-to-table concept and explore appealing alternatives to the processed, unhealthy foods that form the majority of edible offerings in food deserts. Gardening has been demonstrated to increase children’s nutrition knowledge and preference regarding fruit and vegetable consumption and to change behaviors regarding vegetable consumption. By lending a hand in the community garden and interacting with farm stand employees, children will form meaningful connections with their food and establish healthy habits from a young age. Open green spaces will enable residents to exercise and recreate in a safe environment.
Economic opportunities will further benefit the community. Community garden members will be able to sell the produce they grow on-site and take financial literacy classes. The farm manager and farm stand assistant will provide employment for additional residents.
Social and cultural strife are serious issues facing the 105th & Normandie community. Our project will offer opportunities for positive interactions among neighbors, who may have few occasions to get to know one another. Whether trading produce, offering gardening tips or simply sharing a bench, residents will strengthen relationships within their community.
What would success look like in the year 2050 regarding your indicator?
For the Land Trust, success in the arena of environmental quality would mean equitable amounts of green space for all LA residents, at least meeting the National Recreation and Parks Association’s recommendation of 10 acres of park space per 1,000 residents. LA would no longer have the least access to parks compared to seven major U.S. cities and would, instead, stand as a nationwide example of a more livable urban environment.
The Garden of Hope, A Green Oasis Community Farm Stand, Urban Fruit Orchard and Park would serve as a model for dozens of similar sites throughout LA. All urban neighborhoods would include natural green spaces for play, exercise and recreation, and building developers would construct them as fundamental components of all new site plans. Community farm stands would replace convenience stores as heavily-trafficked food shopping areas making food deserts a relic of the past. Children would see, feel, taste and grow a myriad of fruits and vegetables from a very young age, establishing good eating habits and growing into environmental stewards.
As a result of the increased green space, air quality would continue to improve and bees, migratory birds and other beneficial species would frequent the city’s plethora of urban parks and gardens. Quality of life and health, particularly in low-income communities of color, would drastically improve, and rates of asthma, obesity, diabetes, depression and other chronic diseases would plummet. Schools would utilize 105th & Normandie and other garden and park sites as resources for food, scientific and agricultural learning, and physical education.
Regardless of color and socioeconomic status, LA residents would be within easy walking distance of a park, garden and farm stand offering fresh fruits and vegetables. Inequalities of green space would be rectified and low-income communities of color would have as much access to green space as affluent, white communities.
In short, the LA environment would transform from a force hindering human development to one enhancing human development.
For the Land Trust, we would continue to be guided by the specific needs and desires of the communities we serve, striving to offer life-changing community spaces, programs and resources.