Del Aire’s Public Fruit Orchard

Del Aire Park, located near the I-105 and 1-405 junction in an oft-forgotten section of the county, was in desperate need of a facelift. John Koppelman, Del Aire Neighborhood Association president, would walk through the park and bemoan the dim lighting, muddy and patchy grass, its tiny community room and “scary” bathrooms.

Now Koppelman and other residents can be proud. A beautiful new park has taken root, complete with a $4 million renovation of its community building, gym, baseball field and outdoor areas with better lighting, new bathrooms and a groundbreaking civic art project—California’s first public fruit park.

Led by Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas, in partnership with the county Arts Commission, the Department of Parks and Recreation and the artists collaborative Fallen Fruit, the park has become a showcase for “edible art.” It is a new type of community park—one that harkens back to the old days of California ranchos and orchards and that offers a sense of home for all the neighbors.

Fallen Fruit, founded by artists David Burns, Mathias Viegener and Austin Young, planted 27 fruit trees, eight grape vines, dwarf lemons and rosemary in Del Aire and 60 fruit trees were given away to local residents. The plantings are too young to yield fruit, but within a few more seasons, they should bring forth plenty to harvest. Residents will be able to enjoy plums and peaches in the summer, pomegranate and persimmon in the fall, lemons, oranges and kumquats in the winter. The artists hope that nature’s bounty will encourage sharing and local pride.

“Generosity brings generosity,” said Young.

The edible art project is an example of what Chairman Ridley-Thomas seeks to establish throughout his district. Neighborhood involvement is the key to creating stronger community ties, he said.

“We took advantage of an opportunity to think creatively about community wellbeing, health and sustainability through what one might consider “edible art,” said Chairman Ridley-Thomas. “I believe that community gardens and farmers markets are truly the town centers of thriving communities.”

Nine-year-old Aaron Luby, who was getting ready to zoom along the park in his Razor, said he was very pleased to have a surplus of fruit readily available.

“This is good,” he said. “If we have a shortage of fruit, we still have it at the park.”

In a moving ceremony, the flag pole at the park was dedicated to a fallen soldier, Specialist Daniel Patrick Cagle, who died shortly after his 22nd birthday in 2007 while on duty in Iraq. Daniel grew up in Del Aire and would often come to the park to play, said his mother Gail Johnson.

“This is a very bittersweet experience,” she said. “Daniel used to play in this park. I am sure he would feel very humbled by this. We feel very honored that the community would embrace him and his service.”

As for, Koppelman, well, he couldn’t be happier.

“I’m overwhelmed,” he said. “We have a homerun!”