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Seeing the harvest from the orange trees

L.A. officials team up with a high-tech entrepreneur to save one of the city's last orange groves. The 10-acre grove near Franklin Canyon Park will continue to provide harvests for the needy.

April 11, 2013|Bob Pool, Los Angeles Times
  • Brenna Lyons, 28, of Studio City, a volunteer with the nonprofit group Food Forward, picks oranges at the grove at the southern end of Franklin Canyon Park. It's one of Los Angeles' last orange groves and, thanks to a partnership between the city and a high-tech entrepreneur, will continue to help feed the needy.
Brenna Lyons, 28, of Studio City, a volunteer with the nonprofit group Food… (Francine Orr, Los Angeles…)

You've got lemons? Make lemonade. You have an orange grove? Squeeze out some help for needy families.

That's what happened Thursday near the southern end of Franklin Canyon Park as officials of Los Angeles' Department of Water and Power and Recreation and Parks Department teamed up with a high-tech entrepreneur to save one of the city's last orange groves.

The 10-acre grove at 1300 N. Beverly Drive dates to the 1940s. It is owned by the DWP, which operates the nearby Lower Franklin Canyon Reservoir as part of Los Angeles' drinking water supply.

Although the nonprofit group Food Forward had been harvesting the grove's Valencia oranges in recent years on behalf local food banks, its 246 trees were in poor shape because of drought and old age.

Then venture capitalist David Bohnett entered the picture.

Bohnett was bicycling through the Santa Monica Mountains about two years ago when he noticed volunteers for Food Forward picking fruit from the dwindling grove's healthy trees. The volunteers explained what they were doing and lamented that the grove's full potential was not being utilized.

By the time the 57-year-old co-founder of geocities.com hopped back on his bike, he had decided to add the orange grove to the list of projects at his philanthropic group, the David Bohnett Foundation.

Since then, Bohnett's foundation has spent $71,000 planting replacement trees, installing an irrigation system that pipes water to each tree and erecting fencing around the grove, which is not open to the public.

The DWP, meanwhile, agreed to lease the grove to the parks department for the next two decades for $20.

Officials finalized the arrangement with a ceremonial orange harvest Thursday morning that attracted leaders of both agencies along with representatives of the Los Angeles Parks Foundation and City Councilman Tom La Bonge.

"The response of the neighborhood and community to the grove's revitalization has been overwhelmingly positive," Bohnett said. "The importance of this orange grove goes beyond its agricultural benefits."

Bohnett promised that his foundation — which has awarded grants totaling about $50 million for various social causes — will continue to support the grove's upkeep and harvests for the needy.

Food Forward's volunteers harvest fruit and vegetables that otherwise would go to waste for about 40,000 clients a month.

Judith Kieffer, executive director of the Los Angeles Parks Foundation, said officials had searched city archives in hopes of tracing the history of the orange grove but came up empty-handed.

She said the DWP and parks workers hope to eventually save the city money by irrigating the trees using water that seeps from the Lower Franklin Canyon Reservoir.

The grove will not be operating at full capacity until the 168 trees that Bohnett paid for have matured, she said.

bob.pool@latimes.com

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