Sunday, March 18, 2012

How a Food Forest is Changing an LA Neighbourhood

All photos are "screen grabs" from Health Happens Here.

I am a huge believer in Food Forests. I think they are wonderful for the environment (both human and other); a great source of food that can be foraged by those in need; a haven for winged pollinators and birds; an oasis of calm for the soul; and, so many other benefits, I can't mention them all.

This is a case of one man who saw a need and stepped in fill it - alone. Read on for a feel-good story and video.

When Fashion designer Ron Finley made headlines last year it wasn’t because of his day job, but because of a garden he planted along an L.A. sidewalk. The food forest, as the designer turned urban farmer describes it, was started on a parkway next to his home, and took up the 10-foot-wide, 150-foot-long strip once dominated by unruly grass.

In May of 2011, Finley was cited because his food garden was out of compliance and ordered to remove all of the overgrown vegetation or apply for a $400.00 permit that would allow it.

"People are losing their homes, they're hungry, they're unemployed, and this area is so under-served with nutritional food," Finley told the Los Angeles Times last year. After rallying community support it seems the garden has been saved.

In this recent video Finley gives a tour of the garden and talks about the impact it has had on his community. The food forest has created opportunities for dialog with his neighbors - even with those who don’t speak English - that he otherwise wouldn’t have had.

People come from all over the area just to see the garden. Some bring relatives who no longer have places to garden so they can recall what it was like to have a garden. Finley mentions finding people at all hours of the day and night in the garden. One could argue that the food forest is naturally creating instances of 'positive loitering' and helping police the neighborhood.

Another interesting effect of the garden is the shareable economy it is creating among his neighbors. The elderly Japanese man he found walking the garden who didn’t speak English returned one day with plants he wanted to gift Finley. He mentions finding a mother and daughter in the garden at 10:30 pm and realizing that to be in the area at that time meant they were in need. So he told them to take whatever food they needed.

This food forest is an example of how food deserts can be transformed. We just need more people like Finley to care to do it.

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