Fallen Fruit of Del Aire: L.A.'s First Public Fruit Orchard

Fallen Fruit of Del Aire: L.A.'s First Public Fruit Orchard
Christine Chiao

Members of the Fallen Fruit collective, county government, and Del Aire neighborhood took turns settling in a Long Beach Peach sapling into Del Aire Park soil on Saturday, Jan. 5, painting one more stroke to the edible art installation known as Fallen Fruit of Del Aire. The young tree joined 27 other fruit trees and eight grapevines planted throughout the park. It rounded out the official unveiling of the civic arts project, which doubles as the first public fruit park in not only Los Angeles but the state of California.

From all appearances, it was an event very much rooted in the unincorporated neighborhood just south of the I-105 and I-405 junction. A smattering of residents gathered to hear officials like 2nd District Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas address the significance of the moment for Del Aire. Just a short while earlier, neighbors caught up with neighbors over strawberries and tangerines provided by the Hawthorne Del Aire Certified Farmers Market.

At one point before the ceremony, a PETA campaigner dressed in a lettuce boy shorts and bikini showed up, passing out vegetarian and vegan recipe booklets. She was told by sheriffs to vacate the premises shortly thereafter, but her brief presence hinted at greater implications: What happened in Del Aire won't just stay in Del Aire. The community is at the center of what can have a positive effect for Los Angeles and its environs in upcoming years.

L.A. has been reported as park-poor in the past -- and parts of the county are still considered food deserts. In 2006, UCLA's Department of Urban Planning found that L.A. had the lowest number of parks per capita compared to other major West Coast cities.

The study also highlighted the issue of uneven park distribution among neighborhoods. The 2009 Citywide Community Needs Assessment reinforced the latter assessment and the city has since made an effort to mitigate this disparity.

Last August, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa announced the $80.9 million 50 Parks Initiative, leading to new spaces like 49th Street Park and the latest, Fulton Avenue Park. The month before, Grand Park in Downtown opened after a decade-plus partnership between public agencies and private sectors.

Fallen Fruit of Del Aire: L.A.'s First Public Fruit Orchard
Christine Chiao

The edible nature of the Public Fruit Park in Del Aire makes the addition of the park a possible resource for neighborhoods confronting the paradox of a region's resource-rich landscape against codes that discourage its use.

In late 2010, the Fruit and Flowers Freedom Act was passed unanimously by the City Council, with the help of the Urban Farming Advocates and Councilman Eric Garcetti. The UC Cooperative Extension launched the Grow L.A. Victory initiative earlier that year, designed to teach Angelenos gardening skills.

Still there remain instances where the paradox lingers. In May 2011, Ron Finley was cited for the edible garden he planted outside of his Crenshaw home, which was seen as violating Municipal Code 56.08. Finley was able to save his garden with the backing of a petition, his nonprofit organization L.A. Green Grounds, and later Councilman Herb Wesson.

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Fallen Fruit of Del Aire: L.A.'s First Public Fruit Orchard
Christine Chiao

It was amidst these strands of spatial politics that Fallen Fruit of Del Aire was constructed. It took about two years for the project to come into being, from the call for commission to the construction. For David Burns, Matias Viegener, and Austin Young of Fallen Fruit, the vision of a public fruit park dates back eight years to when they formed the collective. By the time their proposal for Del Aire was accepted by the county, the trio had already worked on a slate of projects, such as cooperative fruit tree planting in Madrid and Tijuana.

"One of the ways we think about a project is how you experience a place. We always use fruit, because it's nonpolarizing. It's a symbol of goodness. Everyone has a good memory of fruit," Burns says.

The element of play is another theme they explore in their art, which was why the designation of the fruit park next to a playground appealed to them so much. According to Burns, play invites collaboration as there are no rules. The idea was carried throughout the project, with components like the neighborhood fruit jam session in August 2012.

With no precedence in California, the artists found themselves working with a cross-section of agencies to navigate past city and county regulations. Twenty-seven types of trees and eight vines were eventually selected with the consultation of botanists, specifically chosen to thrive in the neighborhood of Del Aire. The actual scale of the installation expands outside of the park with 60 trees given to residents to plant at their discretion.

"The long view is that eventually the neighborhood will become used to the trees. May will come and they'll think apricots. July would be plums. In August, it would be peaches. We thought of using the trees as a way of thinking about a calendar," explains Burns.

The power of the edible art concept, for Ridley-Thomas, is how various manifestations of nutrition came together for the health of the community. The supervisor indicates there will be more projects to join the Del Aire Public Fruit Park, as well as community gardens in parts of L.A. like Florence-Firestone, West Athens and Lennox.

"The park is the next iteration of farmers markets. People are deciding for themselves that they want to build community in their space and learn more about their neighbors," says Ridley-Thomas. It gives people a sense of ownership, he says, creating community investors.

(Editorial note: This story reflects minor changes since its original publication.)

Want more Squid Ink? Follow us on Twitter or like us on Facebook. Follow the author on Twitter at @chrstnchiao.

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