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Saturday, March 12, 2011

Free Fruit Trees!

Image from LA Times. All Rights Reserved.
Speaking of urban agriculture, on Sunday 400 fruit trees will be given away on a first come, first serve basis at Milagro Allegro Community Garden in Highland Park.  The LA Times has the info below:
Thanks to an anonymous donor, the Milagro Allegro Community Garden in L.A.'s Highland Park neighborhood will give away 400 bare-root fruit and nut trees starting at noon on Sunday.

The donor contacted Milagro Allegro's resident master gardener and teacher Milli Macen-Moore after stumbling upon the garden's blog. "He wanted to do something nice for our garden," said Macen-Moore, adding that the donor kindly picked fruit trees that grow well in the area.

Those trees include: almond, apple, apricot, Black Mission fig, Desert Delight nectarine,three types of peach, Monterrey pear and dwarf Santa Rosa plum.

Trees will be passed out first-come, first-serve for as long as they last. Community and school gardens may request up to five trees; households may request two. Gardeners are asked to bring newspaper and plastic bags to transport the trees. If you miss out, don't fret: Macen-Moore said thousands of organic vegetable plugs, courtesy of school garden guru Mud Baron, also will be given away.

"Sharing the abundance is beautiful to me," Macen-Moore said. "I feel honored that the gentleman made this donation. What a great gesture."

115 S. Avenue 56, Los Angeles

Venice Community Garden

Venice Community Garden at Mildred Avenue
The success of community gardens in LA has been enormous, but all that success has not satisfied the immense demand from the public for growing space.  (Anecdotally, I have been on a waitlist for a nearby garden for over a year, and am still 367th on the list for an opening.)  So, it was with minimal, but well needed fanfare, that the Venice Community Garden opened last year, providing nearby residents a place to grow some vegetables.  Perhaps even more, the story of the garden from the LA Times provides an interesting look at the potentially toxic realities facing community gardens in our urban areas.  The garden, located on a rare vacant lot on Mildred Avenue, was discovered by a couple of burgeoning Master Gardeners, who dreamed up the idea of the garden, and convinced the land owner to lease it to them for their use.  However, initial hopes for the site plummeted when initial soil tests discovered an urban soil profile consisting of a long list of contaminents, pollutants, and carcinogens. 

The garden began to take shape when Kip Wood noticed a “For Rent” sign on an empty lot on Mildred Avenue, down the street from his house. The rent was steep but not impossible. “He probably could have made more parking cars here,” Wood says of the owner. “It’s an empty lot. What else are you going to do with it?”

At an organizing meeting he teamed up with Norma Bonilla, then living in Marina del Rey and, like him, about to start the master gardener course at the time.

“The first thing we did was test the soil -- in five different places, going down about five inches” says Bonilla, pictured at top. “We got the results back and there were exorbitant amounts of arsenic, lead, cadmium, everything. The very worst at dangerous levels. Don't-come-in-here levels.”

They decided to take the topsoil out, removing mounds of debris, broken asphalt and glass, bringing the lot level with the street. The Los Angeles Conservation Corps came in and built 54 4-by-12-foot plots and the gardeners were all instructed to dig down a foot within each space and remove the dirt.

“That was the first time I used a wheelbarrow,” says Mary Barbour, a self-described city girl and one of the original Venice gardeners. Together they amassed a 100-ton pile of toxic soil in the center of the garden that needed to be removed. Then all the gardeners tested their soil one foot down -- just to be sure.

“When the first test came back with a high level of arsenic, we were devastated,” Bonilla says. Adds Wood: “We almost gave up at that point. We took about two weeks off. Our energy was out of the garden.”
After speaking with a number of consultants and experts, the team decided to, in essence, "cap" the soil by placing an impermeable plastic barrier between the existing soil and the new raised planting beds.  In addition, the first wave of plantings featured indicator crops that would noticeably respond to the presence of any contaminants.  Following a successful test period, the garden was up and running, and today's provides a great bounty for the residents using it. 
. . .  they returned to the consultants, horticulturalists, chemists and agronomists, who helped devise a solution: The wooden bed walls were lined with 2-millimeter plastic sheeting, going down two feet. The bed was covered with gypsum, to break up the clay soil, then in rock, to aid drainage. A 50-50 mix of compost and organic soil went on top of that in most beds. Walkways were covered in eight inches of mulch.
In August they began planting, mainly shallow-rooting vegetables. If arsenic is affecting the plants, it will kill them before they start fruiting, Bonilla says. If gardeners are nervous, they're told to grow cherry tomatoes only.

From the street the bounty of the winter garden is obvious: towering kale, basketball-sized cabbages, epic artichoke plants. Wood, initially concerned that 4-by-12 plots were too small, says he and his family can’t keep up with the kale, peas, chard and root vegetables. Son Conrad has stopped being a picky eater, grazing like the adults as they walk through the garden.
The garden should continue to be an interesting case study into how we can convert urban brownfields into productive garden space in a safe and effective manner.  Because judging from their popularity in LA, and the growing need for more locally produced food, even more conversions will need to be done in the future.