live / 2014

Growing a Healthy Los Angeles

Growing a Healthy Los Angeles

Idea submitted in the My LA2050 Maker Challenge by Los Angeles Community Garden Council

In the next year, LA Community Garden Council will help an additional 150 low-income families grow healthy food in their neighborhood.


Please describe yourself.

Collaboration (partners are signed up and ready to hit the ground running!)

In one sentence, please describe your idea or project.

Which area(s) of LA does your project benefit?

  • Central LA
  • East LA
  • South LA
  • San Gabriel Valley
  • San Fernando Valley
  • South Bay
  • Westside

What is your idea/project in more detail?

We envision a community garden network for Los Angeles where people of all ages live healthy, active lives in a clean environment by growing fresh food in their neighborhood. This network enables healthy lifestyles by providing access to healthy food and getting people outdoors exercising through gardening. It fosters the meeting of people from diverse cultures to share the best growing techniques in order to practice sustainable urban agriculture while growing sustainable communities.

In the next year, LA Community Garden Council will build three new community gardens in low-income neighborhoods to ensure that at least 150 families can grow their own healthy food in their neighborhood.

What will you do to implement this idea/project?

First, we will focus on community organizing. We will partner with LA Conservation Corps to send out teams of paid youth ages 18 to 24 to canvass the neighborhood for approximately eight city blocks around the three identified community garden sites. They will knock on doors, meet the residents, distribute bilingual fliers providing information about the new community garden, and invite them to give us their contact information and attend community meetings. We will also reach out to schools, recreation centers, religious institutions, businesses, and other local organizations to let them know about the community garden and invite them to participate in the planning process.

Second, we will hold at least two community meetings for each garden where we will listen to the local residents’ ideas about how they envision the community garden and how it will make their community healthier. We will have a landscape architect present to sketch out the ideas and start to form the garden plans based on the community members’ needs and desires. Over the next few weeks while the architect develops the plans, we will continue to organize the community to build a volunteer leadership team of at least five people and we will work with this team to create bylaws, gardener agreements, and garden rules.

Third, we will help build the community gardens. We will ensure the water is connected, put up a fence and sign, and organize community volunteer days to build the raised beds, mulch the pathways, build a communal meeting area, construct a tool shed and composting area, and help make the ideas and plans a reality! We will bring in soil, seeds, and seedlings to make sure that the gardeners have everything they need to start growing food.

Finally, we will organize classes in the community gardens. Starting with basic gardening skills and partnering with the UCCE Master Gardeners, we will make sure that every gardener can grow basics such as tomatoes, zucchini, herbs, and beans without fear. After 6-8 weeks, when the first harvest is ready, we will help organize a garden opening celebration! We will continue to assist the garden leadership team and will gradually expand the educational program to bring in nutritionists from local wellness centers to lead classes on healthy eating and chefs to lead classes on healthy cooking.

How will your idea/project help make LA the healthiest place to LIVE today? In 2050?

Within the first year, the three new community gardens will provide access to healthy food and exercise for at least 150 low-income families in LA County. Healthcare professionals are starting to recognize the need for a holistic approach to preventative care and a healthy diet and exercise are key components of this. From the existing LA Community Garden Council gardens, we have evidence that gardeners lose weight in their first year of gardening, which helps to prevent Type 2 Diabetes, cholesterol, hypertension, and heart disease. Gardening is relaxing and therapeutic and helps patients with mental illness. By getting children outdoors to garden instead of indoors in front of computer screens, we will help to create positive childhood experiences. We will encourage gardeners to walk, bike or take public transport to their community garden for their health as well as the community’s health.

Building new community gardens creates a healthier environment for local residents. We will seek to have land leases that extend beyond 2050 and, preferably, ensure that the land is used as green space in perpetuity. Teaching organic gardening techniques, including composting and seed collection, will ensure that the garden is sustainable and it will lower residents’ exposure to unhealthy toxins. We will have rainwater collection systems in the garden to ensure the best water conservation methods are followed and to reduce dependence on imported water. We will plant trees around the perimeter of the garden to increase the tree canopy cover.

By focusing on low-income neighborhoods, we will help families to reduce their grocery bill by growing their own food. Ultimately, this reduces the number of households living below the self-sufficiency standard, builds more resilient communities, and helps to reduce rates of homelessness.

We are confident that this three-fold focus on (1) access to healthy food and active lifestyles, (2) creating a sustainable environment, and (3) addressing economic concerns in lower-income neighborhoods will help to make LA the healthiest place to live in 2050!

Whom will your project benefit?

Within six weeks of the completion of the new community gardens, at least 150 low-income families in LA County will directly benefit from eating the fresh produce that they are growing, based on each garden having 50 gardeners. As most avid gardeners know, a single harvest is often too much for your immediate family to consume and so you soon find yourself spreading the wealth and giving away tomatoes, zucchini, mint, and other edibles to your extended family, neighbors, school friends, and co-workers!

We are focusing on the Watts area of South LA for the new garden sites because of the immense need in this area where, according to the LA Times profile, the median household income is low at $25,161, the median age is young at 21 years (partly due to gang violence), household size is high at 4.0 people, only 2.9% of residents have a four-year college degree, and 38.9% of the households are headed by a single parent. 61.6% of the residents are Latino and 37.1% are black.

There are currently 125 community gardens open to anyone in the community in LA County (this does not include gardens with restricted access, for example at schools, hospitals, or detention centers). Our goal is to build three new community gardens in 2015, four new gardens in 2016, five new gardens in 2017, and continue to build one additional new garden every year for the next 36 years. By 2050, there will be 863 community gardens in LA County. If each of these serves 50 families and the average family size continues to be 4.0, more than 172,000 people will benefit from growing their own healthy food in their neighborhood!

Please identify any partners or collaborators who will work with you on this project.

To acquire the land, we will partner with organizations including the LA Neighborhood Land Trust and the Trust for Public Land. We have worked with these organizations in the past and they bring expertise to the process of land acquisition.

For the past 16 years, LA Community Garden Council has partnered with the LA Conservation Corps to employ youth from low-income neighborhoods to help with community organizing and construction of the community gardens. They bring skilled labor and efficiency in numbers.

We will continue to partner with the UCCE Master Gardener program to find knowledgeable and experienced teachers to lead our gardening classes. We plan to form new partnerships with healthcare professionals, especially nutritionists, to offer health programs in the community gardens.

When there is surplus produce in the community gardens, we will continue to partner with Community Services Unlimited, a local organization that distributes fresh food through markets in South LA, selling produce at low prices in neighborhoods that are considered food deserts because of the lack of availability of fresh produce.

Three factors that are critical to the success of these partnerships are (1) setting clear agreements and expectations in writing at the beginning of the partnership, (2) keeping channels of communication open and transparent throughout the project so that everyone is on the same page, and (3) debriefing at the end of the project so that we can determine ways to work together even better in future.

How will your project impact the LA2050 “Live” metrics?

  • Access to healthy food
  • Healthcare access
  • Exposure to air toxins
  • Number of households below the self-sufficiency standard
  • Percent of imported water
  • Obesity rates
  • Rates of homelessness
  • Walk/bike/transit score
  • Rates of mental illnesses
  • Prevalence of adverse childhood experience (Dream Metric)
  • Percentage of LA communities that are resilient (Dream Metric)
  • Percentage of residents receiving coordinated healthcare services (Dream Metric)
  • Percentage of tree canopy cover (Dream Metric)

Please elaborate on how your project will impact the above metrics.

The most immediate impact of the new community gardens will be to increase access to healthy food. This indirectly offers access to healthcare because a healthy diet is essential as a primary preventative measure in any health plan. The gardens will help to reduce obesity and related diseases. We encourage gardeners to walk, bike or take public transport to the gardens, for their health as well as for environmental reasons. Gardening is therapeutic and helps to reduce mental illness and it gets children outside and in community with people of all generations, increasing the prospect of positive childhood experiences.

By creating more green space and a sustainable, organic garden, we will reduce residents’ exposure to air toxins. The gardens will contain trees to increase the level of tree canopy cover.

By focusing on lower-income neighborhoods, we will reduce grocery bills, and consequently the number of households below the self-sufficiency standard and reduce homelessness rates.

By building rainwater collection systems, we will conserve water and reduce the percentage of imported water.

Community gardens help to improve health and to reduce crime in neighborhoods, leading to more resilient communities.

Please explain how you will evaluate your project.

We will consider the project to have been successful if, by September 2015 and within budget, we have:

  1. Opened three new community gardens in low-income neighborhoods
  2. Organized an active and effective volunteer leadership team of at least 5 people for each of the community gardens
  3. Held at least ten gardening and nutrition classes for the community gardeners

What two lessons have informed your solution or project?

The two lessons that informed our community garden project most were from the LA2050 Report (pages 25-26):

  1. Heart disease is one of the top four leading causes of premature death for whites, Latinos, African Americans, and Asian/Pacific Islanders. This is preventable with a healthy diet and we believe that every person has the right to grow healthy food in their neighborhood.
  2. Only 33% of children in Los Angeles live with ¼ mile of a park. By building community gardens, we are creating more green space where children can play and learn and therefore increasing this number.

Explain how implementing your project within the next twelve months is an achievable goal.

LA Community Garden Council’s expertise is building new community gardens! We have built 32 community gardens around LA County and assisted with the building of many more.

We have already identified vacant city-owned land for the three proposed community gardens and we expect to be able to sign a standard lease with the city in 2-3 months once funding is secured. We will then spend two months focusing on community organizing. The design phase usually takes 2-4 weeks and we can build a garden, with LA Conservation Corps labor and volunteers, in 1-2 weeks.

We are therefore confident that we can build these three new gardens and make sure that they are functioning well with strong programs within the next twelve months.

Please list at least two major barriers/challenges you anticipate. What is your strategy for ensuring a successful implementation?

We anticipate encountering the following barriers/challenges:

  1. There are likely to be some residents who are, at first, reluctant to have a community garden in their neighborhood. They may fear excessive noise from the garden, a lack of privacy or have another concern. We will listen to these neighbors during the community meetings and at other meetings as needed, hear and address their concerns, and educate them in the many benefits of having a community garden in your neighborhood. We will be prepared to adapt our architectural plans to satisfy their concerns, as needed.

  2. We have a waitlist for all of the 32 community gardens that we currently manage. We expect to have a waitlist for the new community gardens soon after they open. We will address this excess demand by working with the new volunteer leadership teams to determine clear criteria for who can lease a plot in the garden (for example, only those who live within a certain radius of the garden) and to determine the length of the gardeners’ agreement. Many of our recently opened gardens only allow one family to have their own plot for two or three years before passing it along to a family on the waitlist. In years when they do not have their own plot, they are still able to garden and benefit from the produce grown in the communal areas of the garden.

What resources does your project need?

  • Network/relationship support
  • Money (financial capital)
  • Volunteers/staff (human capital)
  • Publicity/awareness (social capital)
  • Community outreach
  • Quality improvement research