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ONE ZIP CODE AT A TIME

Community Garden Demonstration Project Summary Report

Working Draft

Background One Zip Code At a Time (OZCAT) is a new and exciting approach to community health planning that hones in on unmet local needs and organizes local solutions, starting at the ZIP Code level and radiating out from there. The mission of OZCAT is to improve the health of our communities, and our sights are set on reversing the childhood obesity epidemic. To do this, OZCAT organizes and implements community-enhancing projects to increase access to fresh food and increase opportunities to be physically active. OZCAT refers to the small but dedicated network of people volunteering their time and skills to improve their communities–one activity, one project, one zip code at a time. This dedication takes many forms. For the OZCAT Demonstration Project, launched in the summer of 2009, two OZCAT members–Lisbeth Sinclair (a planner) and Tess Diamond (a gardener)–took to work planning a community garden in 90004 (Los Angeles, CA), where they lived. On behalf of OZCAT and with the help of their growing network, Liz and Tess delved into the behind-the-scenes world of community gardens in Los Angeles. During the longer-than-anticipated but fuller-than-expected planning phase, they collected, processed and analyzed a wealth of information. Following a time of review, reflection, and deliberation, and based on they learned during their extensive exploration, Liz and Tess arrived at a set of ambitious but realistic options for bringing a garden to their area. This summary report summarizes their experience, chronicles the highlights and key learnings of their journey, and some of the fresh ideas spurred along the way. Told from the point-of-view of Liz and Tess, the following information is intended to help others looking to bring gardens to their communities. Goals for the Demonstration Project In July 2009, we decided that a community garden would be OZCAT’s first long-term project. Our goal: to establish a community garden in or near the ZIP code 90004 in the Wilshire-Center Koreatown neighborhood of Los Angeles. The main idea behind the garden was to increase access to fresh food, a critical step in resolving the childhood obesity problem. Community gardens are one of the most participatory and community-enhancing strategies for providing affordable fresh food, one of two primary goals of OZCAT (the other being to increase physical activity). A second objective of the project was to demonstrate the potential of place-based projects, such as those developed by OZCAT, to enhance a community while increasing its appetite and capacity for change. Third, a garden is a highly visible and galvanizing community feature that provides a platform for raising awareness about food issues. Finally, the garden would provide much needed open space, a place to gather, and a new asset for the neighborhood. In August, we set the following specific goals: • Provide a “locally grown” solution to the problem of food insecurity among low income residents in 90004; • Work collaboratively with diverse partners and draw upon local knowledge and resources to plan, plant and maintain the garden; • Offer neighbors an opportunity to learn from or mentor others while experiencing the benefits of group stewardship and the natural beauty of a garden; and, • Demonstrate that neighborhood-scale projects can have big impacts on the people they serve.

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ONE ZIP CODE AT A TIME

Community Garden Demonstration Project Summary Report

Working Draft

We embarked upon the demonstration project as a creative experiment in community garden planning, and an incredible opportunity to learn more about our ZIP, our neighbors, and the community gardening movement in Los Angeles. We also hoped to generate a ripple effect that would lead to further community-driven improvements. With a sense of adventure and possibility, we began to plan our garden. The 90004 Community Located within the City of Los Angeles, the roughly 3 square-mile ZIP Code of 90004 is a microcosm of its host city—beautiful, varied and densely populated. Home to approximately 70,000 people (a broad estimate based on the most recent Census data), 90004 is a veritable melting pot: multi-cultural, socioeconomically diverse and ultimately urban. From Koreatown on the east to Larchmont Village on the west, between Melrose Avenue to the north and Third Street to the south, 90004 is a special, central section of the city (and county) where neighbors know and like each other; diverse businesses thrive with the support of local patrons; and a well situated, well served population enjoys quality schools, views of Griffith Park and proximity to Downtown, among other assets. At the same time, the issues facing 90004 are as grave as those found anywhere else in the city or region. Overcrowding, unemployment, violence, health disparities and other serious problems persists, such as childhood obesity, which is visible throughout the community. According to healthycity.org, the cost of living in 90004 is “very high” and 23% of the population lives below the poverty level. The challenges are real, but overall 90004 has assets that ultimately outweigh its vulnerabilities. By working together in innovative and non-traditional ways, we hope that our ZIP will inspire and motivate others to band together to improve their well-being and quality of life. The Los Angeles Gardening Community How lucky we are to live in Los Angeles, with its warm, cooperative and tightly-knit network of organizations and individuals committed to making things grow (not to mention its warm, sunny and semi-arid climate). Over the past several months, we’ve had the pleasure of meeting and getting to know some of the dedicated people who comprise and nurture the community garden movement in Los Angeles. Around every bend, we found support, encouragement and gratitude for our efforts. We have also had the pleasure of connecting with a number of municipal and neighborhood service organizations, which work alongside residents to improve the quality of life in our communities. The dedicated individuals who serve at these organizations have been responsive to and appreciative of the OZCAT approach to catalyzing change in our community. The feedback and advice from all of the groups we met was invaluable to us, and every conversation helped us fine-tune our thinking about the possibilities and realities before us. Following is a summary of our outreach and network development experience so far. Reaching Out and Honing In Our journey started in August at the LA EcoVillage, an intentional community that demonstrates how high-quality living patterns can have a lower environmental impact. Founder and manager, Lois Arkin, gave us a tour of the EV, located on Bimini Place in the Wilshire Center neighborhood. Lois immediately took One Zip Code At a Time, and right off the bat she suggested we partner with her on a

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ONE ZIP CODE AT A TIME

Community Garden Demonstration Project Summary Report

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future learning garden soon to be established on a vacant lot in EcoVillage. Lois is a long-time resident of 90004, and she has a great deal of experience getting things done in the community. Her vision and leadership are an inspiration, and the EV community is living proof that community-driven change is possible and fun. In September, we connected with The Los Angeles Community Garden Council (LACGC). The linchpin of the community gardening movement in LA, LACGC acts as a convener, advisor, and support system for projects big and small. Founder, Al Renner, is widely recognized as the grandfather of community gardening in LA. Al immediately understood the OZCAT mission and saw the value of a replicable model; and, he supported our aspirations to apply that model to the local gardening movement. Al suggested that we get our hands dirty on a struggling rooftop garden downtown, and he offered to work with us directly. We spoke with the Los Angeles Conservation Corp (LACC), which runs the Fresh Food Access Program and leads tree-plantings and other greening efforts, as well as the Los Angeles Neighborhood Land Trust (LANLT), which facilitates the creation of small parks and gardens in underserved neighborhoods. With these groups, we can share information we uncover about un- or under-utilized lands that could potentially be converted into open space. We also spoke with Community Services Unlimited, which runs a series of food-access programs that make up the Community Food Village Project, as well as Urban Farming, a national organization with a Los Angeles chapter, which acts as a facilitator in planting gardens in unused areas. These programs offer a great range of resources, tools and information. We connected with Yvonne Savio, Director of the Common Ground Garden Program and a veritable fixture in the LA gardening community. Another vital gardening resource, Common Ground offers expertise, technical assistance and hands-on teaching to gardeners and food security advocates from all over the city. Their Master Gardeners Program is a national leader in gardening capacity-building, and their first-rate collection of tools and resources makes Common Ground an unparalleled source of gardening know-how. From the beginning, we envisioned leveraging the Master Gardener program to help us plant and nurture our garden, which was widely regarded as a sound strategy. One by one, we connected with each of these incredible organizations, and in each case we were met with support and appreciation for our efforts. Another common theme was that all these organizations— including OZCAT—has a firm commitment to ensuring public participation and collaboration throughout the process of creating community gardens. We found that, taken together, these groups form an extensive and diverse network which welcomed and encouraged our involvement. We connected with the Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA/LA), an agency of the City of LA, which makes strategic investments to create economic opportunity and improve the quality of life for residents. Shepherded by Yonah Hong and a multidisciplinary team of park planning experts, CRA/LA is currently leading an effort to plan for the expansion of Francis Avenue Community Garden in Koreatown. We also reached out to the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment (DONE), which supports the city-wide neighborhood council program and offers free capacity-building workshops to residents. In October, we made a presentation to the Wilshire Center Koreatown Neighborhood Council to introduce OZCAT and our garden project. We asked the members of the board, as well as members of the public, to consider and recommend appropriate places within our community to locate the garden, which turned up a few useful suggestions. We made similar appeals to other local organizations, including the Korean Youth and Community Center and Growing Great, among others. We also reached out to several schools in our area—middle, high and charter schools—but that route proved to

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ONE ZIP CODE AT A TIME

Community Garden Demonstration Project Summary Report

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be unproductive, owning primarily to budget cuts to the California School Garden Network, which is currently struggling to support existing school gardens and is not starting new ones. Our elected City Council officials, represented by their Field Deputies, proved to be knowledgeable and accessible. Nobody knows their communities better than Field Deputies, so we connected with the offices of the two elected city officials in our ZIP—Eric Garcetti (Council District 13) and Tom LaBonge (Council District 4)—and, in both cases, were met with encouragement and support. We discussed future plans for increasing open space, specific vacant lots, and opportunities for public participation in creating more parks and gardens in our community in the near future. We also took inspiration and sage advice from a couple remarkable youth projects that have big impacts on the kids who experience them. We spoke with one of the partners at RootDown LA, which teaches cooking, nutrition and food system lessons to high school students, who also go on fieldtrips to a local farm. In November, we had the pleasure of experiencing the Moveable Feast, a unique educational program for fourth graders in Baldwin Park that teaches lessons about food safety, cooking and nutrition from an innovative, mock mobile kitchen cart, which was a hit with the students, teachers and parents alike. These successful examples of interactive food education hold many lessons and keep us motivated. Finally, to get to know the landscape and familiarize ourselves with possible models, we visited as many community gardens as we could for further inspiration and ideas. We were particularly impressed by the following gardens: Francis Avenue (90005); Manzanita (90027); Baldwin Park (91706); and, Solano Canyon (90012). We also attended local events—garden gatherings, community meetings, clean-up events—to connect with other advocates and grow our network. Lessons Learned and New Ideas Many important lessons were accumulated during the course of our outreach and network development. First and foremost, we learned that an incredible web of gardeners and advocates exists and functions to support a wide range of community gardens in Los Angeles. We heard from virtually everyone we spoke with that there is always the room—and the need—for more gardens, and that resources all of types are readily available for those who seek them. “Once you have your land” is what we heard from virtually all of the organizations. Generally referred to as “Step 1” in the community garden planning process, finding the land is no small task. What’s more, converting a vacant lot into a garden is not always possible or advisable for a number of reasons, which became clearer to us as the months passed. Another finding which we made early in our process was that community gardens are not necessarily (or usually) public. With only one exception (Francis Avenue Community Garden in 90005), all of the community gardens we visited were locked and inaccessible to the public (community plot holders have keys or access codes). Our idea is that community gardens, if they are to serve the community, should open up at least a portion of the garden during daylight so that community members can enjoy the sights, smells and perhaps even the tastes of the garden. Opening up the gardens would expose and involve the larger community while raising awareness about the possibilities for gardens and growing. A small investment—minor design services, fencing materials and labor—would be required. However, a plethora of resources—the abovementioned organizations, for instance, along with a range of gardenspecific grants—are available to resolve this issue. Another key lesson was that community garden managers need support. Managers are notoriously hard to get a hold of, one of the reasons the gardens are hard to access. Our idea is to create a paid city-wide coordinator position to support the managers and act as a bridge between the gardens and the community. Not only would this improve the administrative aspects of garden management, but it

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ONE ZIP CODE AT A TIME

Community Garden Demonstration Project Summary Report

Working Draft

would have the added long-term benefit of creating a career path in community garden management. This has positive implications for both local economic development (job creation) and garden sustainability. Again, a relatively small investment—training and paying a part-time employee—would reap large rewards for the community and ease the (often uncompensated) burden of managers. Finally, we learned that within our community there are a number of garden-related efforts already underway that need support to succeed. Our idea is for OZCAT to partner with the organizations driving these initiatives and to participate in advancing those efforts by assisting where needed to make those projects successful. These priority opportunities are described below. Priority Opportunities OZCAT is committed to increasing access to fresh food in and around 90004, and we want to capitalize on the best opportunities we’ve uncovered through our research, outreach and network development. In November, we decided that our strategic focus going forward would be on supporting, expanding and enhancing active garden projects currently being led by other organizations in our community. We have identified the following three priority opportunities: 1. Francis Avenue Community Garden Expansion (90005). Hoping to secure funding from Prop 84, the CRA/LA has initiated a community-based planning process to expand the Francis Avenue Community Garden. The agency, working with a group of consultants, is currently conferring with community members about the possibilities for developing the vacant lot adjacent to the highly successful 10-year old garden, which is run by the First Unitarian Church, located next door. The public outreach component kicked off on November 17, and OZCAT participated, and will continue to participate, in community meetings to contribute to the development of a common vision for the lot in the future. The planning team, based on input from the community, is exploring a range of possible open-space uses, including a garden or park. 2. EcoVillage LA Learning Garden (90004). Proving that organizing and advocacy within our communities can deliver results, the EcoVillage (EV) won a hard-fought battle that earned them the right to use the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD)-owned land located within the EV for a new learning garden. Lois Arkin and her team from the EV will be initiating a participatory planning process in the near future, and OZCAT has already been invited to participate. OZCAT will stay in contact with the EV and will contribute to upcoming meetings, workshops and garden planning events. The proximity of this site to a number of schools in the community makes it an ideal location for a learning garden with possible linkages to the schools. 3. Downtown Rooftop Garden Rehab. The LACGC is looking for assistance in rehabilitating a somewhat forgotten but high-potential garden located on a rooftop downtown. Al Renner invited OZCAT to be part of this incredible opportunity to breathe new life into this unique garden. While we don’t know much about the opportunity at this point, we look forward to learning more about it in the coming weeks, and we hope to be involved in this rehab in early 2010. In each case, OZCAT hopes to pitch in and bring new voices and hands into the mix. We will also provide updates on each of these projects, along with any new ones we uncover, on our blog. Non-Priority Opportunities During our exploration, we also identified a couple vacant lots that we thought might make suitable garden sites. However, managing the conversion of those sites is not our top strategic priority at this time, for a few reasons. The pipeline is dauntingly long, and a “from scratch” project would require

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Community Garden Demonstration Project Summary Report

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resources beyond what we could provide. In this light, we humbly acknowledge that our chances of success—in the short- and long-term—are slim. Further, given the presence of the other, more attainable opportunities outlined above, we feel our contribution would yield the greatest return if we expound upon those opportunities. We see tremendous value in partnering with the organizations described above, which have an established foundation and proven track record. Still, we remain hopeful that the vacant sites we see in our community will be converted to gardens (or, at a minimum, open space); and, we will continue to advocate for that with our city council members, neighborhood councils, and other community-based organizations. We are also happy to share the findings of our 90004 vacant lots research. Next Steps OZCAT hopes to contribute to each of the priority opportunities summarized above in different ways, which are currently being defined on an individual basis. Among other things, OZCAT will help get the word out about these projects, recruit volunteers to service them, and raise awareness about their benefits. We also hope to demonstrate through our volunteerism the value of contributing to these projects, and others like them taking place in neighborhoods all over the city. Finally, we will continue to participate in, and, from time to time, organize community-enhancement opportunities, including garden gatherings and clean-up events, which have been successful and meaningful for us so far. Taken together, we hope these steps will help 90004 to realize improved health outcomes while sparking a new age of civic engagement and community-driven positive change. Looking forward, we will work to anticipate and plan for future needs before they become challenges and, above all, we will remain optimistic that empowering and supporting communities to advocate for themselves will payoff for the dedicated individuals, organizations and institutions that make the investment. Acknowledgments With appreciation, we acknowledge the guidance, counsel and support of the following individuals: Aida Alvarado; Lois Arkin; Kat Atkiss; Anthony Bagnerise; Glen Dake; Nicola Edwards; Nikki Ezhari; Meg Glasser; Kee Whan Ha; Linda Hahn; Yonah Hong; Emma Howard; Sean Kearney; John Kim; Richard Kim; Hillary Larsen; Tonya Mandl; Lara Morrison; Al Renner; Yvonne Savio; Patrick Sinclair; Teague Weybright; and, Adam Wolk. How to Get Involved OZCAT is a growing organization and we welcome the participation of anyone with a passion for healthy communities. To learn more about current opportunities to get involved, please send an email to info@onezip.org.

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