play / 2014

LA Childrens Garden an Eden Project for Los Angeles.

LA Childrens Garden an Eden Project for Los Angeles.

Idea submitted in the My LA2050 Maker Challenge by Muir Ranch

#LosAngeles as a city is way overdue for a children's garden amongst its spaces to learn, play and commune with the natural world.


Please describe yourself.

In one sentence, please describe your idea or project.

We want to build a school, flower farm & event venue space that exceeds the Eden Project and becomes a fun, new model learning environment.

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?

There’s a growing movement of school gardens across all parts of LA County. They all have common needs: compost, tools, skilled gardeners and water-wise irrigation. A LA Children’s garden could support them all with material, technical and training resources. If you put a charter high school in the middle of it you have one of the best learning labs around. If you add a concert venue and meeting space to this flower farm you have a truly dynamic learning and play space.

What will you do to implement this idea/project?

We’ve partnered with Environmental Charter High School in Lawndale and Mia Lehrer + Associates to site one of the most innovative school campuses and botanic gardens imaginable. Muir Ranch currently occupies 3.5 acres in Pasadena and features a student-run CSA vegetable subscription program, catering and long table dinners and full event floral jobs training programs for low-income high school students. A LA children’s garden will be an expansion of our existing work. Designing and building this “farm” will be a hands-on project for our students and our adult professional mentors from all sectors: design, entertainment, hospitality (food), #green construction and education.

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

LA does not have a children’s garden like New York or Chicago (or even Dayton, Ohio). It’s a double shame since we live in a year-round outdoor growing climate unlike our eastern sisters.

Kids that interact with nature and each other learn more and faster. And nothing inspires wonder like sunflowers in a Van Gogh field or a spiral maze of zinnias and kale. And once kids engage with nature they might be more inclined to empathize with it and want to do more to travel lightly on the planet.

The farm will be a school for the students who build it. It will be a wonderful place for younger students to visit and play. The farm will be teaching tool for educators. And like a church, it is the people who gather and invest their time there.

Whom will your project benefit?

Elementary and Pre-k students: they need places to explore and interact. Think Kidspace as a garden!

High School Students: look what’s possible a career, as a farmer and a learner in service.

Teachers: see what’s possible as an educator and know you are supported at your school to teach kids what they are capable of.

Angelenos: not all soil needs to be covered up! Let’s grow a flower farm.

Butterflies: we need more milkweed for Monarchs.

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

Muir Ranch is a teen jobs program that looks like a farm. We are working with Environmental Charter High School to build the LA Children’s Garden as a project-based learning campus.

“Environmental Charter High School (ECHS) is an award winning, free, public high school in South Los Angeles that prepares students for 4-year colleges using the environment as a lens for real-life learning. Our schools place an emphasis on experiential, project-based learning that engages students as it prepares them to become leaders in their communities.”

Mia Lehrer + Associates’ projects include the LA River, Vista Hermosa Park, TreePeople campus and the Natural History Museum. Amazing sites!

Muir Ranch is supported by dozens of corporate and individual donors and customers via are CSA program. We sell vegetables to retail customers and horticulture companies (Baker Creek, Seeds of Change and Organiks) provide endless plant and seed material. Both major program partners, ECHS and MLA, with Muir Ranch bring education and design expertise to create a space where all can learn and #play!

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

  • Access to open space and park facilities
  • Number of children enrolled in afterschool programs
  • Per capita crime rates
  • Residents within 1⁄4 mile of a park (Dream Metric)
  • Number of residents with easy access to a “vibrant” park (Dream Metric)
  • Number of parks with intergenerational play opportunities (Dream Metric)
  • Number (and quality) of informal spaces for play (Dream Metric)

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

Los Angeles is a stream of parking lots, apartment complexes, mini-malls and freeways. And it’s all on some of the best growing ground on the planet. A shame.

A 1 acre children’s garden and school would show that a different city is possible: more play space, more garden teaching space and more space to have first-hand conversations with butterflies.

Please explain how you will evaluate your project.

  1. 100 students directly engages as designers, builders and growers.

  2. 1000 school gardens resourced at one of our monthly events

  3. 10,000 students as guests and explorers

What two lessons have informed your solution or project?

  1. Kids are amazing. As educators our best successes occur when we provide learners an opportunity to thrive by giving them the necessary intellectual and physical tools… and then we get the hell out of the way.

  2. Farming is the ultimate act of optimism. When young people discover how a seed becomes a plant with a tomato, they discover also what they are also capable of as they stand before a big scary world. Growing food and flowers empowers.

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

Muir Ranch was started 3 years ago on 2 acres with $5,000 and a supportive school. Once we’ve chosen our specific site (any acre with dirt, sun and access to water) making fields bloom is not hard. Not at all. We create the learning and work environment where our student interns and the farm can literally bloom.

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

We have several candidate sites. Dozens. We need a 5 year+ lease with govt. agencies to secure the space.

Having dozens of sites to choose from makes for tough choices. Which one? Which one? That’s a good problem.

We have faith in dahlias and kids.

What resources does your project need?

  • Network/relationship support
  • Money (financial capital)
  • Volunteers/staff (human capital)
  • Publicity/awareness (social capital)
  • Infrastructure (building/space/vehicles, etc.)
  • Education/training
  • Community outreach