Environmental Quality / 2013
Gardens Gardens Everywhere!
The Learning Garden wants to build a garden at every school, church, empty lot, public library, traffic median and every home in Los Angeles. Over the ten years as one of the most vibrant school and community gardens in Los Angeles, The Learning Garden has learned that a garden is not just a place that grows wonderful organic fresh food which brings people to good health. It is not just a place that grows medicinal herbs which not only cure illness but teach health care practitioners how and why each plant creates health in people. It is not just a place where school children are exposed to nature, the knowledge of how to grow their own food, and learn about careers in nutrition, horticulture, science, art and ecology. It is not just a place where people learn to grow their own cotton and flax, dye plants and the traditional art techniques to create both utile and artistic materials. It is not just a place to save seeds from heirloom foods that are becoming extinct, helping to save our biodiversity. It is not just a place that beautifies a neighborhood, adds oxygen to our air and reduces waste. A garden is also a place that brings people together and even more profound – connects them to the earth. It’s a place to celebrate each other – to share both knowledge and food --- a place of “common ground” for young and old, rich and poor, men and women – a place that enriches the quality of life on every level. While we chose the Indicator of Environmental quality, this project also impacts education, arts and cultural vitality, health, and social connectedness. The mission of The Learning Garden is to bring back that connectedness to nature, and teach people the importance of plants in our lives. By creating an outdoor learning center in an underutilized area of Venice High School, The Learning Garden offers hands-on education in horticulture, permaculture, herbology, botany, nutrition, art, photography, and environmental science to students and community. It not only beautifies the community, but offers a place of peace and serenity in an often turbulent “concreted” world. In the ten years of existence, The Learning Garden has been instrumental in starting gardens in many other LAUSD schools by offering teacher training, workshops, starter plants, mulch and wood chips and volunteers. Seeing amazing results, not only in the creation of gardens, but in the creation of supportive communities within our city, we now want more gardens in our city. Gardens, Gardens Everywhere is a project to make that happen. With the funding we would receive from Good, we will facilitate the installation of a minimum of 10 gardens in interested communities throughout the city. We will train project leaders to assist communities to build what THEY need in their community, offering classes, supplies, seeds, mulch, plants and helping them find their community volunteers and local businesses. We will ask that groups fill out a questionnaire, commit to the project and to training and get a minimum of 20 people involved. We will offer free monthly classes to inspire the participants what needs to be done each month. We will supply tools for big work days and give each group funds for tools of their own. We will supply mulch, compost, seedlings, seeds, trees, and workday food and water. We will offer lifetime memberships to the Seed Library of Los Angeles so they will have access to non-GMO open pollinated seeds for their gardens. A project manager, together with the board of The Learning Garden, will design the application process, and criteria on which projects are chosen. The project manager will also design the protocols of the lending tool library and all forms, and be responsible for the inventory. A “propagation crew” will be hired to start seeds, transplant, propagate cuttings, graft trees, to create a huge resource of plant materials for the new gardens. Any participant will be able to “intern” with the propagation crew to learn how to do this for their own garden. A monthly class will be offered for all participants, and will be taught what to do in the garden that month, with hands on learning, and opportunity to have their specific questions answered by a highly respected horticulturist. Each project will have its own project leader who will guide them in the design, implementation and sustainability of the garden. We will also work with Good Karma Gardens, a pay-it-forward operation that starts gardens in individual’s homes, whether in their yard, on their patio or roof. The recipient of their labor would be expected to help install someone else’s garden in the near future. Again, all individuals will be offered free monthly classes, and membership to the Seed Library of Los Angeles. Good Karma Gardens will have access to the Lending Tool Library, seed, mulch, chips and plants, and a working fund for water and refreshments for work days.
What are some of your organization’s most important achievements to date?
The most important achievement of The Learning Garden is the continual growth of programs and gardens it has inspired over the past ten years. With very little funding, The Learning Garden has demonstrated the true meaning of sustainability through community spirit and volunteerism. Over 250 high school students a year are trained in organic horticulture, and many have pursued careers in horticulture related fields. In our Seed to Sale program, students learn the process from planting to harvesting to selling at the local Farmers Market. Our art students regularly use the garden to draw and paint. The science classes are out in the compost piles learning the nitrogen and phosphorus cycles.
We have inspired and supported gardens at many of our feeder schools so that garden curriculum is developing from Kindergarten thru High School.
The Learning Garden has one of the most extensive Chinese Medicinal gardens in the country and our local Traditional Chinese Medicine schools are trained from seed to harvest to medicinal use at our garden by world experts. Our Native Californian and Succulent gardens are works of beauty and an example for homeowner to strive for in water wise gardening. This year, our Natural Arts Garden is in the process of being installed and will be home for classes in weaving, dying, painting, all with natural fibers and dyes. Upcoming plans include simple designs for water catchment and water gardens as demonstration for homeowners to emulate. We offer classes through UCLA extension and the UC Davis Master Garden programs, as well as our own Victory Garden classes and regular gardening, tai chi, chi gong and cooking classes. The Learning Garden works with organizations such as Occupy Venice and Sivananda Yoga to make sure that all extra food goes to those in need.
Our community events, including the Spring Equinox Celebration, the July 4th Ice Cream Social (with ice cream made from the garden), Pesto Day (our garlic and basil whipped into a heavenly meal) and our Winter Solstice all bring together our community in celebration. We also sponsor, with Transition Mar Vista/Venice, a 100 Mile Meal, stressing the importance of eating locally. Most important, our weekly potlucks create a regular and safe place for people of all kinds to join together to share their garden foods.
Please identify any partners or collaborators who will work with you on this project.
The Learning Garden partners with many organizations and will promote this project through all its venues. For this project, we will work with SLOLA, Transition Towns, Tree People and Good Karma Gardens. The Seed Library of Los Angeles will supply seeds for the seedlings as well as seeds for the gardens directly. Good Karma Gardens will supervise the installation of individual gardens. We will work with the Transition groups to offer reskilling and repurposing workshops, Little Free Library builds, cooking and canning classes, and other interests. We will contact Tree People for large tree donations and Better for help with water catchment designs. We will create contacts with local businesses in each area for additional support.
Please explain how you will evaluate your project. How will you measure success?
The first measure of success would be the physical completion of 10 garden projects throughout the city. Each project leader will document the process and participants will be asked to write about their experience in the process. A blog page on The Learning Garden website will be created for each garden to document ongoing progress. The true measure of success will be the yearly reports and stories of the effect the garden has on its community, and the programs and other gardens it inspires.
How will your project benefit Los Angeles?
The building of neighborhood gardens in the vastness of Los Angeles will help the city in many ways. We have learned over the last ten years that a garden that is shared by community and students builds a strong support system. It beautifies the city, creating green lush food and flower gardens, adding trees and community gathering areas. Growing and eating locally helps the ecology, reduces the carbon footprint, reduces excess trash, and creates healthier individuals. Most importantly, it creates community; a garden has no limits as to age, race, gender, creed, culture or color, or economic status. A garden brings together people at an equal level to work together and develop trust and support. It reconnects people to each other, making our city rich in positive relationships working toward the good of the community, not just the individual. It will bring educational opportunities to schools , churches and neighborhoods. Each garden will exemplify the culture of the community around it and the network of gardens will share knowledge across the city to each other.
What would success look like in the year 2050 regarding your indicator?
Imagine a Los Angeles of the future with gardens on every block, in every school, church, office building, roof top – everywhere! Gardens which are rich in food and beauty bringing nature back into everyone’s lives– how could this not be good? Communities will be brought together with the common goal of growing food, herbs and flowers that will benefit their own neighborhoods. Eating local will be as local as it can be which benefits our ecology in so many ways: reducing traffic, oil consumption, the carbon foot print and adding oxygen into the air. People will be healthier from eating fresh organic produce and working the land in their spare time. Our retired and elderly will have purpose, as well as a community that supports them. People in need will have access to fresh food and herbs. Our children will learn through the garden – science, art, nutrition, ecology, respect for nature and community, – naturally and profoundly. And the most important thing that we have found – people will connect to each other and resilient communities will evolve. Resilience is the quality that will see us through all that may face us in 2050, whether due to climate change, peak oil results, earthquakes and fires, economic collapse, or anything that will challenge us as a people. At The Learning Garden, we have seen remarkable changes in ten years. We can only imagine what the next 37 could manifest if we start now.