Harvesting the fruits of their labors: fostering community and healthy living in Watts

 
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Early Saturday morning, INFEWS trainees travelled only a few miles to one of the most forgotten neighborhoods in the city of Los Angeles, Watts. There we visited the Watts Community Healing Garden (WCHG), a community garden filled with fruit trees and vegetables plots. Additionally, we met with Nicole Landers, one of the co-rehabilitators who gave us a sense of the limitations to healthy food access within Watts and how this community garden has bolstered the education and health of the students at Edwin Markham Middle School. With the help of Landers and her team, the Watts Community Healing Garden engenders optimism to help a community plagued with poverty, obesity and violence making it more than a typical urban garden.

The Watts Community Healing Garden has had a sinuous journey to its current state. Landers explained that the garden has been there since the 1950’s and, after some years of cultivation, the land was left to grow wild until 2006. From then, she has been working with the community, students at Edwin Markham Middle School, and the legislatures of Los Angeles and California to transform the overgrown plot into something the people of the Watts community can be proud of.

Landers led us on a tour of the garden, lined with blossoming and fruiting Passiflora edulis (Passion fruit), where she exhibited what her team's efforts had built. The trainees meandered through small groves of apples, peaches, persimmons, limes and the remnants of the previous year’s vegetable harvest. Landers then put us to work. A bed had been left to grow wildly once the vegetables were harvested but by the end of our time there the bed was cleared and ready to be planted again.  

 
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The community of Watts, like many others, is home to proud people, who are wary of outsiders and the idea of handouts. To fulfill the need for fresh food in the community, the WCHG needed to gain the trust of the people. Thus, the garden attempts to give ownership to the people of Watts. Directly, this will be done by through community supported agriculture (CSA) programs, and by promoting “backyardeners” – a portmanteau of backyard gardeners. Through the CSA, the community of Watts will have better access to the fruits and vegetables, which they have helped tend to. The backyardeners will be given seeds, propagates, trees and lessons on growing and preparing healthy food. These actions will allow communities members to grow themselves, making access to healthy food more affordable.

At the same time, the garden will serve a bastion for high tech urban gardening. Through the garden’s partnership with the Los Angeles Clean-Tech Incubator, the garden will implement techniques that will conserve water, energy and reduce waste. In turn, a broad range of people would visit to learn about sustainable water conservation practices, such as solar powered water condensers. Through these efforts, the WCHG will be pillar of the community shepherding Watts’ residents toward better health, security, and respect.

Post and pictures submitted by Marvin Browne and Sophia King. This blog is part of the INFEWS social media series “FEW and Far Between”.