Let’s do some word association. When I say L.A. what do you think? Among some of the words I’ve heard are: Hollywood, movies, stars, traffic, palm trees, glamorous, beaches, earthquakes, big buildings and concrete. Los Angeles has many redeeming qualities, however, the over abundance of highways, freeway and byways has quite literally made this urban landscape fecund with concrete … miles and miles of it stretching on to the setting southern California sun.
That said, on a recent trip to Los Angeles, a group of us went to go visit a community garden to get the scoop on urban community gardening projects. The one we choose to visit is nestled next to and on top of the 110 freeway – literally. Here in the most unlikely spot to see veggies, flowers and fruit trees thriving, the five acres of the Solano Canyon Community Garden serves as an amazing example of the power of community to change a wasteland to a paradise.
Nearly 10 years ago, this same five acres was an empty plot of land, with the seemingly dead soil covered in broken glass and trash with plastic bags clinging to a chain link fence. It wasn’t until a group of local gardeners got together and started tilling the soil, planting, and season by season began rejuvenating and reclaiming the terra firma at Solano Canyon.
Fast forward, and it is hard to believe that the garden hasn’t always been there. Busy bees, which are kept on the property by a local beekeeper, buzz by to pollinate the copious amounts of fresh fruits, veggies and flowers that grow on the property. Two thirds of the space is devoted to an orchard and hillside planting beds for local farmers who sell the produce in farmers markets and the like. The remainder consists of common areas and 30 individual garden plots.
Dark, rich soil stains the hands of India and Sebastian, a husband/wife team that help manage the property. India, an urban girl through and through, met Sebastian, a transplant himself from Chile, at a salsa bar. Sebastian’s quiet yet steady resolve to be in nature has brought India into the world of gardening, something she had no idea would have such a positive effect on their lives together. India said this about the garden, “I always thought my food came from a clean, well-lit shelf in a grocery store, but now I know the power of growing your own food is transformative not only for the land and body, but for your soul.”
Community gardens do more than restore the urban landscape. They tap into a deep seeded – arguably genetic – desire for us to get our hands into the earth, reconnect, and grow! They are the road (sans concrete) back to community.