Environmental Quality / 2013
What if that broad expanse of grass in your local community was instead producing healthy, nutritious, organic fruits and vegetables? Our project is about empowering citizens to turn the under-utilized spaces around them into productive gardens: public spaces where people can learn, gather, and share. Food gardens can be beautiful nature spaces within our concrete-bound city. Community gardens can provide gathering places in a city that doesn't have much public open space. Public gardens can be places to meet your neighbors and work together; they are centers for learning, for arts and culture, and for a new sense of community. Gardening is enticing, fun, approachable, and accessible to multiple demographics. It builds health through exercise and stretching, sunshine and fresh air, and promotes healthy eating with fresh, organic, local, clean, unprocessed food. In these times of ongoing economic contraction and resource limitations, learning the skills of growing food is a necessary skill for survival. Community gardening provides an excellent vehicle for much broader lessons about environmental stewardship and social dynamics. Organic gardening opens the door to much-needed conversations about pollutants, toxins, consumerism, and activism. It cultivates new perspectives on humanity's place within the earth's ecosystems. Our project is about **changing minds**, which then inspires people to change their habits, surroundings, and environment. Our proposal consists of three parts: 1) Growing gardeners. Through experience, we understand that “more community gardens” is not simply a matter of more physical construction and installation. Rather, we must grow the skill-base to maintain the spaces we create. We propose to offer a series of "Organic Vegetable Gardening" classes for the general public at multiple locations around the greater LA area. Our unique approach to gardening education integrates organics, permaculture, saner resource consumption, and ecosystems awareness. We integrate food gardening with environmental transformation. 2) Growing gardens. The grant would make it possible for ECM to mentor several community groups* who are contemplating the installation of community gardens like ours. We can guide these prospective community garden groups, based upon our experiences of what works/doesn’t work; help them find resources; match landholders with knowledgeable local food gardeners; give them a helping start with garden design to create beautiful, artful, and healthful open spaces; help them learn how to make the most out of minimal inputs, available onsite materials, and shoestring construction budgets; help them establish and grow a local leadership team. *(specific sites are currently being identified by our networking partners) 3) Growing root-level change. To deepen environmental transformation, we would host a training about a much more panoramic view of change. The Transition training (a) raises awareness of the sweeping implications of peak oil, climate change, resource limitations, and the economic crisis, (b) helps participants grasp the vast number of things that can be done at the grassroots level to prepare for such a future, and (c) trains participants to be community leaders for this preparedness effort. It includes training on community empowerment, evolved group dynamics, economic solutions, and the psychological implications of the massive changes humanity faces. We propose to bring trainers from Transition US (the national representative of the international Transition Network) to Los Angeles, to train leaders and help additional local neighborhoods start neighborhood action groups. Grant funding would make this training accessible to low income participants in less-affluent areas of our megacity, so that post-petroleum preparedness can get underway on a widespread basis.
What are some of your organization’s most important achievements to date?
In 2005, we founded the Environmental Change-Makers (ECM), a network of “proactivists” who focus on What We Can Do about our environmental and social issues. In 2008 ECM built the Community Garden at Holy Nativity. ECM members continue to manage this garden’s production and have achieved 5 years of weekly harvests for the benefit of Food Pantry LAX. Since 2008, ECM has offered monthly Organic Vegetable Gardening classes to the general public. In 2008, ECM hosted the first Transition Training in Southern California, bringing trainers in from the UK to do so. Subsequently, we launched 8 action groups in neighborhoods around the greater LA area. In 2009-2011, ECM worked with LAUSD and the Mayor’s office to found and build the Emerson Avenue Community Garden.
Please identify any partners or collaborators who will work with you on this project.
ECM been asked to be the garden know-how and support for the “Seeds of Hope” community garden program (directed by the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles). ECM has an ongoing / founder relationship with Transition Mar Vista/Venice, Transition Culver City, NELA Transition, and the Emerson Avenue Community Garden (Westchester). ECM has collaborated in the past in varying capacities with The Learning Garden (Venice), the Seed Library of Los Angeles, the Arroyo SECO Time Banking network, Our Time Bank (Culver City), Whittier Time Bank, Metabolic Studios (downtown), the Green Team at Cal Poly Pomona, Good Karma Gardens (Mar Vista), Permaculture networks throughout Southern California, Transition US and the international Transition Network.
Please explain how you will evaluate your project. How will you measure success?
We will evaluate our success at Growing Gardeners by the number of participants in the garden classes and with a followup survey.
In evaluating our success at Growing Gardens, we understand from experience that a meaningful and change-making garden and garden community cannot be built within the short timeframe defined by a grant. Within the timeline of this grant, we will evaluate success by the number of prospective community gardens we support and the degree of our involvement. Longer-term – over a period of years – the better measure of our success would be how many gardens are brought to fruition (built, maintained, and harvested). Another longer term measure of Growing Gardens success would be the number of communities who eventually become ready to deepen their environmental transformation by sending participants to a Transition training.
Within the timeline of this grant, we will evaluate our success at Growing Root-Level Change by the number of participants in the Transition training and by the diversity of participant demographics. Longer-term, however, the better measure of success will be how many training graduates go on to establish active groups in their home neighborhoods, and the degree to which those groups engage local neighbors in proactive change.
How will your project benefit Los Angeles?
Right now to get a plot at a community garden, in most places in LA County you have to wait 3 to 6 YEARS.
Meanwhile, there are many groups that are “thinking about” creating a community garden. ECM’s networking partners know specific landholders who are “thinking about” opening their land to growing food. Yet all these groups are scared of the unknown because they have never done it before.
We have. We’ve created gardens in several vastly different models of what “community gardening” can mean (traditional plot style, school garden, and charity style). We can share what works and what doesn’t work, and help groups who are “thinking about it” get past the mulling-it-over stage into meaningful action – into creating real, physical, much-needed garden spaces. Ultimately, our project will facilitate much more land being available for community gardens in Los Angeles.
Additionally, ECM has the connections – locally, nationally and internationally – with people who are taking a proactive stance to the threats posed by climate change, peak oil, resource limitations, and economic contraction. These are big scary problems, but there is plenty that we can do as grassroots citizens. Our project will lead to greater awareness of the issues, with more people striving to prepare our city and its citizens for the realities of the future.
What would success look like in the year 2050 regarding your indicator?
By the year 2050, direct success would look like far more food gardens in and around Los Angeles. Local residents will know how to garden their food and harvest rainwater. They’ll exchange the delicious and healthful fruits of their harvests with each other. Local neighbors will feel a sense of “belonging” to their home communities, and happy gatherings of all colors and cultures will frequent the beautiful open spaces under the L.A. sunshine.
By 2050, everyone will be really glad that way back in 2013, people started planning for the realities of the future. Because of that planning, people of the late 2010s began to “Transition” their lifestyles. They began to think locally, and build up local infrastructure, so that the pain of having less and less petroleum and energy supply (and thus less transportation and less technology) hasn’t been nearly so great.
Because people understood that climate change was coming, they planned appropriately. They planted low-chill fruit trees that could adapt, which in 2050 still bear fruit despite hotter temperatures. They knew to save seed locally and develop food plant varieties which are adapted to LA’s changed weather patterns. They talked among themselves (in those delightful community gardens) and began to build water cisterns and energy-free devices to cope with the heat.
Now (in 2050), elders hand down to younger generations the skills of growing rich, nutritious, local food, and it is normalized within the culture that everything is fresh and organic. The community gardens that were built back in the mid-2010s are now a vital part of The Commons. They are the “town squares” where people gather socially, gather to make art and music, gather to discuss community issues, and gather to enjoy their food together.