live / 2014

Open Grove

Open Grove

Idea submitted in the My LA2050 Maker Challenge by Groceryships and Netiya

Open Grove harnesses the institutional power of congregations by repurposing fallow land into orchards.


Please describe yourself.

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

In one sentence, please describe your idea or project.

Netiya advances institutional collaboration around food procurement and food relief to grow community food security.

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

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

What is your idea/project in more detail?

Mosques, synagogues and churches are our greatest source of ready-to-repurpose open spaces in the city. We harness the institutional power of congregations by repurposing fallow land into orchards. Project Open Grove transforms the urban landscape with a simple idea rooted in ancient texts: tithing harvests. Tithing is the act of donating 10% of one’s resources to address the needs of the under-resourced within and around our communities.

What will you do to implement this idea/project?

The collaboration of Netiya and Seeds of Hope through Open Grove involves engaging the untapped power of our faith-based institutions around food justice. As a combined network of close to 250 institutions, we start with accessing willing partners that can offer acreage, resources, and volunteers from our institutions. We build out a collaborative network wherein Open Grove offers institutions with deeply rooted and, in many cases, shared ethics, an opportunity to become powerfully aligned with one another around food justice in LA.

The viability of our 2050 vision will be demonstrated within the next year by taking on the following measurables:

1) Develop three pilot orchard projects at three faith-based institutions representing geographic, religious, socioeconomic, and land-use diversity. Complete experiential and educational orchard installs and have the three institutions coordinating their own sustainable garden maintenance plans.

2) Initiate large-scale interfaith food justice collaboration through institutional engagement by convening a one-day, interfaith food awareness summit targeted toward religious and lay leaders across institutions, building upon the Seeds of Hope conference that was held in May 2014. This conference will focus on shmita - the religious commandment of leaving the land fallow every seven years (from September 2014-2015). We’ll hold interfaith discussions about how to improve upon our food growing operations so the recipients of the food relief become more empowered - and focus on food sovereignty rather than furthering hand outs.

3) Convene an “Interfaith Council” that meets twice a year to collaborate and support ongoing food production efforts, building upon Netiya’s successful model Council. Hold meetings sharing best practices on food procurement and food security with interfaith clergy and lay leadership.

4) Develop and distribute a “Your Congregation’s Sustainable, Water-Wise Orchard Resource Guide.” Perhaps it will have a shorter title! The guide will give tools to our network institutions to plant and maintain orchards on their properties and contribute the produce to grow community food security.

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

Converting faith-based institutions’ unused land into productive green space will expand urban green areas and bring about related environmental benefits. These include temperature reduction, energy conservation, fewer smog and red alert days, improved water quality, and sequestering of greenhouse gases. In particular, there is an acute awareness of the need for more green space in low-income urban environments. In this way, Open Grove’s approach can have a particularly powerful impact on the health of these communities, as religious institutions are very strong players and can become a starting point for cultivating new and improved access to green spaces.

Open Grove’s other benefits result from shifting towards local sustainable food systems, as a response to food safety and food access issues, as well as national epidemics of hunger and obesity. The focus on planting urban orchards is intentional, as we assert that urban orchards can have a much more significant effect on the long-term food system than annual vegetable gardens. Once established and producing, orchards can produce food for decades, and, in the case of nut trees, can produce healthy food with high caloric value. Orchards are also significantly easier to maintain once established, need far less material (compost, mulch, plastic irrigation supplies), water, and labor than annual gardens, and many orchards will produce food even if they are left alone for years. And Open Grove will work with gleaning networks in LA that already work on private and public orchards to provide food to local pantries.

Whom will your project benefit?

Open Grove recognizes its place in a much larger urban sustainability movement in Los Angeles that provides environmental, economic, and societal benefits to Angelenos. By funding two networks to collaborate on installing Urban Orchards on institutional land, this project will effectively free up more unused land to increase food production. It will also do two vital things: 1) it will enhance the food justice collaboration between secular and religious sectors and 2) it will give voice to the religious and spiritual people / institutions in LA that have not yet been harnessed and serve to literally and figuratively “feed” this growing food movement. Specifically, Open Grove is part of the much larger urban greening, local food production, and food justice movements. By engaging powerful faith-based allies across the city in planting urban orchards, Open Grove will amplify the social and environmental benefits of tree planting for food, creating positive effects that will last for decades. Converting faith-based institutions’ unused land into productive green space will expand urban green areas and bring about related environmental benefits. These include temperature reduction, energy conservation, fewer smog and red alert days, improved water quality, and sequestering of greenhouse gases. In particular, there is an acute awareness of the need for more green space in low-income urban environments. In this way, Open Grove’s approach can have a particularly powerful impact on the health of these communities, as religious institutions are very strong players and can become a starting point for cultivating new and improved access to green spaces. Open Grove’s other benefits result from shifting towards local sustainable food systems, as a response to food safety and food access issues, as well as national epidemics of hunger and obesity. The focus on planting urban orchards is intentional, as we assert that urban orchards can have a much more significant effect on the long-term food system than annual vegetable gardens. Once established and producing, orchards can produce food for decades, and, in the case of nut trees, can produce healthy food with high caloric value. Orchards are also significantly easier to maintain once established, need far less material (compost, mulch, plastic irrigation supplies), water, and labor than annual gardens, and many orchards will produce food even if they are left alone for years.

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

Specific partners that have been identified are the Metropolitan Water District, Greywater Corps, The River Project, LA Community Garden Council, New Horizon Muslim School in Pasadena, the New Community Jewish High School, Temple Beth Hillel, the North Hollywood Interfaith Food Pantry, the Unitarian Universalist Church, Temple Beth Ohr, All Saints Episcopal Church, Temple Beth Israel of Highland Park and Eagle Rock, the Prince of Peace Episcopal Church and the West Valley Food Pantry as a demonstration orchard and a model of the direct orchard-to-pantry model.

Some partners do advocacy, some provide funding, others provide land, and still others find the materials needed to install the orchards.

We have very specific membership and partnership terms for all collaborations. We work towards a model of empowerment and reciprocity. We are happy to forward a PDF with our terms for your perusal.

Potential partners may come from the public or private sector, including corporations, academia, water agencies, other food and environmental nonprofits, and workforce development agencies. We would specifically expect to continue to engage our network partner institutions, UC Master Gardener, Master Composter, and Master Food Preserver volunteers, Brown Mountain CSA, Social Justice Learning Institute, Food Forward, Tree People, the Million Trees Initiative, the Yale University Urban Resources Initiative, SOVA and the NoHo interfaith food pantry. We will also bring in community organizations and youth groups to help start up and manage the orchards in their local neighborhoods, potentially establishing new community hubs in areas with limited access to fresh food.

The collaboration with Seeds of Hope is confirmed - this is Netiya main partner. The food justice ministry of the Episcopal Diocese of LA established to repurpose church property and facilities for the production and distribution of food in underserved communities across the six-county diocese. The program currently grows food at nearly 100 locations and operates 60 food pantries and 50 feeding programs as well as providing nutrition and fitness education. Executive Director, Tim Alderson, came to Seeds of Hope from a lifetime in agriculture. He was the founder and former CEO of AgriGator, Inc., a multinational soil amendment company and the founding chairman of the California School Garden Network, a statewide network of public and private sector organizations united in support of school gardens.

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

  • Access to healthy food
  • Exposure to air toxins
  • Number of households below the self-sufficiency standard
  • Percent of imported water
  • Percentage of LA communities that are resilient (Dream Metric)
  • Percentage of tree canopy cover (Dream Metric)

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

By 2050 we estimate that Open Grove will:

*Create 50 acres of new open/green space that is fertile and productive land. Previously neglected, now helping to increase property values in neighborhoods around the city

*Improve community health, particularly among the “food insecure” by adding over 23 million servings of fresh fruits and nuts to local food pantries.

*Remove 4,500 tons of CO2 from the atmosphere

*Reduce stormwater run-off by 185 million gallons

*Conserve 2.3 billion gallons of water (by converting turf and ornamentals to trees)

*Improve LA’s water quality by capturing and slowing water runoff at our institutions so it percolates into underground aquifers

*Improve the quality of life in our communities by developing alternative food access in and around our geographically-diverse congregations, decreasing noise, air pollution, and temperatures, while increasing open space and property values.

*It is hoped that Open Grove will also help reduce medical costs associated with obesity, diabetes, and smog-related health issues as community members spend more time outdoors doing physical activity.

*Fifty acres of new orchards in LA would significantly increase the percentage of tree canopy cover and likely reduce the ambient heat in parts of the city.

*In addition the orchards will create hubs for educational programming, leadership building, as well as opportunities to create continuous sources for healthy, local food that can be donated or used within the community

Please explain how you will evaluate your project.

Number of institutions. Our goal is to have 500 faith-based institutions involved by 2050 with an average of ten trees planted at each participating congregation’s property.

Geographic distribution. Our goal is to have a practical, positive and measurable impact on the health of individuals and the environment throughout every region in the county. We will quantify the geographic distribution of our orchards with particular interest in areas of greater food insecurity and environmental stresses.

Demographic diversity. We aim to involve Angelenos of every cultural, ethnic, and socioeconomic background. We will quantify success by comparing our participants with the overall diversity of Los Angeles.

Acreage converted. Each orchard will be measured and added to the total to identify whether we will meet or exceed our goal of converting 50 acres to open space.

Trees planted. Our goal is to plant 5,000 fruit and nut trees by 2050. Trees planted will be inventoried using GPS coordinates and tracked carefully for their positive impacts on the environment and local food production.

People served. Produce from our orchards will be distributed to neighbors in need through our volunteer network, and local food pantries. The amount of fruit or nuts distributed to each recipient will be recorded to track how many people are served.

Pollutants removed from the air. Each tree has the potential to remove approximately 50 pounds per year of CO2 from the atmosphere. This could amount to over 4,500 tons of CO2 removed from our air by 2050. In partnership with the Urban Resources Initiative at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, using their technology we will precisely measure the total quantity of pollutants each tree removes from the surrounding air.

Water saved. Before converting a property to orchard production, we will record the water consumption for its prior use. After conversion, water usage will be documented to determine water savings in this drought.

Volunteers participating. Community involvement is a key determinant of the sustainability. We will quantify the number of congregations and participants over time and the average length of personal engagement. We will also look for indicators to predict a person’s willingness or resistance to participation and motivators for long-term involvement.

Additional, somewhat less quantifiable, impacts such as stormwater runoff and decreases in temperature will also be observed.

What two lessons have informed your solution or project?

“There are, it seems, two muses: the Muse of Inspiration, who gives us inarticulate visions and desires, and the Muse of Realization, who returns again and again to say “It is yet more difficult than you thought.” ― Wendell Berry

1) Our existing congregational gardens after three years are not producing high yields, they do however, have high educational value for the congregations. We’ve learned there are more effective ways of using land.

2) Annual gardening can also prove extremely humbling and very frustrating for volunteer gardeners that have irregular schedules and competing priorities. We’ve learned that orchard maintenance is much more suitable and rewarding for our congregants. They feel more connected to the program when there is more productive source for their labors.

To this end, we have shifted to planting high yield nut and fruit trees and offering educational programming to supplement fruit tree care.

We’ve also learned from Wendell Berry, “Put your faith in the two inches of humus that will build under the trees every thousand years.”

We know intimately the successes and failures of our attempts to influence nature and will continue to share this concept time and again with our communities. Plants thrive or wither despite our willful application of effort.

Remembering this lesson, that of keeping at it anyway, despite the setbacks and course corrections, has helped us continue. We believe this reframing will be a win-win: more productive yields for recipients of emergency food relief will tend to galvanize the congregations more over time, and that in turn will keep the congregant volunteers more connected to sustaining their efforts over time.

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

We are two organizations with strong and engaged community networks. We have three shovel-ready sites waiting for project implementation. Netiya and Seeds of Hope both possess proven track records with many combined years of experience working in partnership with communities both installing and sustaining gardens and orchards. This is evidence of our ability to continue to build out a successful and sustainable garden program that is fully integrated into the conventions of the institution. The viability of our 2050 vision will be demonstrated within the next year by taking on the following measurables:

1) Develop three pilot orchard projects at three faith-based institutions representing geographic, religious, socioeconomic, and land-use diversity. We will aim to build community ownership at the same time we build the gardens. One will be an interfaith food pantry that feeds over 160,000 people a year. Combined with the other two gardens, we estimate reaching an additional 500 families with fresh produce. We plan to complete the three empowering educational and experiential garden builds within the community and have the three institutions coordinate their own sustainable garden maintenance plans. This will serve as a replicable model that can be expanded upon in 2015-2016.

2) Initiate large-scale interfaith food justice collaboration through institutional engagement by convening a one-day, interfaith food awareness summit targeted toward religious and lay leaders across institutions, building upon the Seeds of Hope conference that was held in May 2014. This conference will focus on shmita - the religious commandment of leaving the land fallow every seven years (from September 2014-2015). We’ll hold an interfaith discussion likely in May 2015 about how to improve upon the sustainability of our food growing operations so the recipients of the food relief become more empowered - and focus on food sovereignty rather than furthering hand outs.

3) Convene an expanded “Interfaith Council” to meet twice a year to collaborate and support ongoing food production efforts, building upon Netiya’s successful model Council. Hold meetings sharing best practices on food procurement and food security with professional facilitation.

4) Develop and distribute an “Interfaith Resource Guide” to give tools to our network institutions to plant and maintain orchards on their properties and contribute the produce to grow community food security.

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

One major barrier I foresee could involve the timeframe. In several cases our network members have been given green lights from their administration to launch garden installs, only to have a committee within their institution review the plans and request a delay and more than once the delay has been many months. Establishing a firm time frame to meet the needs of this grant may make sense to all our project partners at the outset and in reality may prove difficult to fulfill. The success of Open Grove depends on timely implementation on the part of our institutional collaborators - which cannot always operate within tightly scheduled parameters! Our second major barrier is the drought. We intend to plant orchards with significant amounts of mulch and compost, as well as berms and swayles to sink and store as much groundwater as possible for the trees. Open Grove will source 2 year-old trees and they will need watering in their first years in order to survive the drought. If the drought intensifies, we will meet the expected challenges with implementation by amplifying our drought-tolerant and water-wise educational series in partnership with the Metropolitan Water District and other community partners to drive strong content through the congregations.

Our water-wise educational component is critical for the longevity of Open Grove sites. Our proven curriculum ensures that community partners are equipped and able to maintain these orchards as their own.

What resources does your project need?

  • Network/relationship support
  • Money (financial capital)
  • Publicity/awareness (social capital)
  • Quality improvement research