Tree farming and more
Sent: Wednesday, April 11, 2001 3:33 PM
>>From the current issue of Metropolis Magazine
Homelessness, welfare reform, and soil erosion--solved!
L.A.'s Urban Farm and Orchard to the rescue.
S T E P H E N Z A C K S | A p r i l 2 0 0 1
When politicians dig into their store of quotable sound
bites about ending welfare, they don't usually offer up urban
subsistence farming as an obvious solution. But just north of L.A.'s
Chinatown, alongside the 110 freeway, a program called the Urban Farm and
Orchard is beginning to capture the imagination of the city's
political establishment. On a four-acre hill donated by the City of
Los Angeles, 21 inhabitants of a homeless encampment called the Dome
Village are working alongside residents of a local
drug-rehabilitation center to plant and harvest crops of peas, broccoli,
carrots, potatoes, and beets to be sold at a neighborhood farmers'
The Urban Farm and Orchard, which reaped its first
harvest last fall, began one and a half years ago as an experiment funded by
the Environmental Protection Agency, community-garden angel
Bette Midler, and members of the local community. "The project
got started out of a community garden that I helped found," says Al Renner.
"When we asked the city for three-quarters of
an acre, they ended up giving us nearly five. So we had land that we
didn't know what to do with."
When he discovered that the EPA was offering grants to
help control soil erosion, Renner had the idea of building terraces on
the hillside. "I wanted to stop the water from running down and destroying
our garden, and it turned into this work program that stops
erosion, produces food, employs homeless and recovering people,
and is a benefit for the whole neighborhood." Today the Urban Farm
consists of 22 terraces with more than 5,000 square feet already in
production and an orchard of fig, pomegranate, citrus, peach, apple, and
cherry trees currently being planted.
Although earnings have been minimal so far, the response
from the workers has been overwhelmingly positive. And politicians
are beginning to take note of the way the farm is
transforming both the hillside and the concept of welfare-to-work. "The
political stature of our project is growing on a daily basis," Renner says.
county supervisors are starting to think about incorporating
gardening into their homeless programs. Pretty soon everyone in L.A.
will see it, because our orchard is going to extend right up over one
of the major freeways as the tunnel goes underneath it."
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