Thanks to a 71-year-old former school custodian and the contributions of several philanthropic institutions and government agencies, South Los Angeles has its first community garden--an 8,000-square-foot plot straddling Vermont Avenue near the Coliseum where residents can grow food for their families.
Helen Johnson is the true founder of the Vermont Square Community Garden, although she is quick to stress that it was the S. Mark Taper Foundation that put up $80,000 to finance the project, including the $58,000 it cost to buy the land on an old Red Car right of way from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
Another nonprofit group, the Trust for Public Land, brokered the deal. City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo also put up some money, and the nonprofit Los Angeles Community Garden Council now owns the property.
Each neighborhood resident who farms a garden plot pays $2 a month for the privilege and can maintain possession as long as he or she makes those payments. The garden council provides the water, and the Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks contributes fertilizer.
"We are digging, creating and expanding," said City Councilwoman Jan Perry at a dedication ceremony Friday, while Larry Kaplan of the Trust for Public Land told of hopes to create many more community gardens in Los Angeles, where 100 exist in some form already.
"These residents have not only learned how to harvest their own food, but they've made it happen by finding many supporters for their dream," Kaplan said proudly.
The Netherlands and Belgium are famous for their urban garden plots. There, thousands of residents farm large plots on the edges of cities, growing many of the vegetables and fruit they consume.
New York City also has seen a rapid expansion of such plots.
When Johnson began gathering support for the South Los Angeles project, there was only an empty, abandoned lot. According to those who spoke Friday, Johnson proved adept at seeking help, even from religious institutions such as Los Angeles' Temple Israel, which donated some fruit trees.
Finding affordable land is a major impediment to such projects, but the abandoned Red Car right of way proved to be just what was needed in this instance.
The garden looked well-watered and well-tended Friday, and it was obvious that many vegetables were ready for harvesting. Others, such as corn, are just starting their spring growth.
Delgadillo said he hopes that a community center can eventually be built next to the garden.