Building Community at Veterans' Garden

 Vegetation prepped for planting in the garden beds.

Vegetation prepped for planting in the garden beds.

Tucked away behind UCLA’s Jackie Robinson Baseball field on LA’s Westside is a 15-acre plot of land brimming with potential. UCLA is teaming up with the West LA Veterans Affairs (VA) to make this space into a Veterans Community Garden; a place to engage LA’s veteran community in an atmosphere completely different than the health care services the VA typically provides to veterans. Though a detailed plan of the garden has yet to be completed, the project will go beyond just gardening, with plans to provide spaces for recreation, community building, and classes. The gardening space will serve as a model for urban farming and offer veterans a variety of services that provide physical and mental health therapy, such as outdoor activities and fresh produce that can be donated, used for healthy cooking classes, or even sold to provide revenue.

 UCLA-INFEWS trainees work together to clear the garden space.

UCLA-INFEWS trainees work together to clear the garden space.

 UCLA-INFEWS trainee Benjamin Hoar works hard to collect debris in the garden.

UCLA-INFEWS trainee Benjamin Hoar works hard to collect debris in the garden.

With veterans at the focus, the UCLA-INFEWS trainees plan to take on three projects aligned with the VA and UCLA’s goals to revitalize the Veterans’ Community Garden. The first project focuses on renovating a third of the space into orchards that offer an assortment of organic vegetables and fruits. INFEWS trainees, along with adviser Professor Amy Rowat in UCLA’s Integrative Biology and Physiology department, plan to suggest what additional fruits and vegetables can be grown in the space, propose a viable compost system, and identify ways to effectively inspire volunteers to attend gardening and harvesting classes that will ultimately aid in the garden’s upkeep. The second project, led by Professor Laurent Pilon in UCLA’s Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering department, will aid in designing and developing a community garden space that is accessible to visitors with disabilities and is in line with UCLA Sustainability initiatives. This includes considering clean technology development, restoring the two greenhouses already on the premises, and creating community engagement opportunities with veterans. The last project, led by Professor Chong Liu in UCLA’s Chemistry and Biochemistry department, focuses on laying the groundwork that is necessary to plant additional fruit trees or vegetables. To do this, trainees plan to analyze the garden’s soil and develop energy and irrigation system models that are in line with UCLA sustainability initiatives.

The enthusiastic group of UCLA professors, graduate students, and affiliates gathered together for UCLA-INFEWS’s kickoff event this past Friday on September 28th at the Veterans’ Community Garden and began the projects by clearing debris from the garden, surveying the land, and collecting soil samples. The trainees are looking forward to working on these projects and collaborating with the West LA VA and the surrounding community.


Post and pictures submitted by Jack Hoeniges and Priera Panescu. This blog is part of the INFEWS social media series “FEW and Far Between”.