A Victory Garden Blooms in West Athens

A native of Mississippi who grew vegetables all her life, Bettie Taylor had always longed to put her fingers in the earth and plant something after moving to an urban neighborhood in Los Angeles County. But in her concrete-covered backyard she could only plant in pots. So when the opportunity came up to win a large garden bed in the new West Athens Victory Garden down the street, she jumped at the chance.

Now her garden bed is blooming with marigolds and bursting with bell peppers, zucchini and okra—not to mention the Halloween scarecrows and cobwebs she placed there as seasonal decorations.

“I have always wanted to do this,” said Taylor as her grandson Jacob played beside her. “All my life I have seen things grow, and here I can put seeds in the ground. It is such a blessing.”

The West Athens Victory Garden, which takes its name from the World War II-era campaign that encouraged thousands of Americans to grow their own food, has replaced an empty lot that was once blighted the neighborhood. The garden features 30 raised garden beds, which residents applied for, it boasts fruit trees, a play structure for children, a walking path along the entire perimeter and a rainwater cistern, that will catch as much as 1700 gallons of water annually—enough to provide water for most of the fruit trees that have been planted in the garden.

Much of the garden was built for kids.

Eliza Rodriguez, 13, tended her family’s raised bed, planting radishes, carrots and lettuce.

“I love to get dirty,” she smiled as the black dirt caked her hands.

The garden was created in partnership with the educational nonprofit, First 5 LA, and their Little Green Fingers garden initiative, which targets children under 5 for health and nutrition programs; the non-profit LA Conservation Corps, the LA Neighborhood Land Trust and Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas.

“This garden is the first of its kind built especially for the youngest members of our community,” said Chairman Ridley-Thomas. “Gardens promote nutrition, health and seeing our kids prosper and grow. All around, it’s a good thing.”

Soon, the remaining undeveloped quarter acre will become an edible “food forest”, brimming with peaches, plums, lemons, limes, grapefruit, figs and other delicious fruits. Additionally, a bioswale, a landscape element designed to remove silt and pollution from surface runoff water, will surround the forest to collect and treat water runoff. To complete the garden, a farm stand is planned for the gardeners to sell their produce. In addition, there will be regular gardening lessons held by master gardeners and nutrition and cooking classes.

As Taylor notes, the garden gives back much more than food. In the garden neighbors look after each other’s plots. If she notices her friend’s bed is looking dry, she will give it a watering. The favor is reciprocated. It is also a place where she can teach her grandchildren and great-grandchildren about food cycles and seasonal growing. It is her legacy to her family.

“My grandchildren thought that vegetables grew at the store,” she said. And then she noted with pride that Jacob had transplanted the strawberry plants growing all around. “I hope to pass this down to them. This is a great place to take pride in your neighborhood.” [/raw]