What happens when a community garden is also a social justice and civic art project? It becomes an unexpected work of edible art. In Del Aire, a community nestled in the crux of the I-405 and I-105 freeways — north of El Segundo – a one-of-a kind urban orchard and civic art project has taken root.
Del Aire’s park was ready for updating, and so the Second District invested $4 million to renovate the gymnasium, to build new baseball fields and fencing, and to install irrigation and lighting. However, the office also used a portion of the funding, $40,000, to partner with the nonprofit organization Fallen Fruit and create California’s first urban public fruit tree orchard.
Working with local residents, the Second District and Fallen Fruit planted 22 fruit trees in the Del Aire Park and distributed 60 in the wider community. The park is now home to apricot; peach, nectarine, plum and pluot trees, and planters hold fragrant dwarf lemons, rosemary and lavender. One final tree in the project will be planted in the park when it is dedicated in late December or early January. Next year, when the trees are expected to first bear fruit, their bounty will be available, for free, to all comers.
It is Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas’ goal to build a community garden in every unincorporated community in the Second District. To that end, new gardens have been planted in Florence/Firestone and Lennox, and locations and funding have been identified for gardens planned for Willowbrook, Athens and Baldwin Hills. Studies show that community gardens bring not only a sense of psychological and social well-being to the neighborhoods where they grow, they also have positive nutritional and economic impacts. Community gardeners have a greater consumption of fruits and vegetables than non-gardeners, and well-tended plots can save families hundreds of dollars a year.
The collaboration between the Supervisor and Fallen Fruit came about through a creative use of County civic art dollars. One percent of funding for every County construction project has to go to civic art, and the Second District leveraged those dollars to develop Del Aire’s park.
Fallen Fruit, a collaboration among David Burns, Matias Viegener, and Austin Young, was the perfect partner for the Del Aire project. They brought their experience, energy and ideas to the orchard, which now is posed to become a model for Los Angeles County and the rest of the state. And if you’re wondering how fruit can be defined as art, check out the group’s photos and videos, its murals and interactive installations.
Moreover, Fallen Fruit has art world bona fides. Earlier it held an exhibit at the Los Angeles County Museum, where it created an amphitheater around an orange tree to celebrate the simple beauty of a growing tree.
There will be a Grand Opening ceremony in January for the community building and fruit park.