From Parking Lot to Salad: The Micheltorena School & Community Garden

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Tue, Aug 9, 2011 at 11:00 AM
click to enlarge Herbs add kick to a community garden grown salad - KATHY A. MCDONALD
  • Kathy A. McDonald
  • Herbs add kick to a community garden grown salad

Chalk one up to green. Overlooking traffic-heavy Sunset Boulevard in the heart of Silver Lake, community activists have transformed a former school parking lot into vegetable, herb and flower filled garden at L.A.U.S.D's Micheltorena Street Elementary School. Every Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., volunteers are welcomed to taste the fruit of their efforts, such as a just picked summer salad, straight from the streetside garden.

As more and more Los Angeles urbanites are growing their own, the farm-to-table movement has become increasingly localized and miniaturized. The community-minded garden aptly demonstrates the cornucopia possible even on a small triangle of land. Even one across from an auto body shop.

There's also considerable philosophy fertilizing the beds.

click to enlarge Community garden blooms next to Sunset Boulevard - KATHY A. MCDONALD
  • Kathy A. McDonald
  • Community garden blooms next to Sunset Boulevard

Sustainability, food justice and the promise of putting neighborhood schools into a new light are just some of the concepts behind the garden. Founded by volunteers, funded in part by the Silver Lake Neighborhood Council and organized by EnrichLA's Leonardo Chalupowicz, the organizer credits Micheltorena Street Elementary's principal Susanna Furfari with giving the consent to remake the teacher's parking lot into a garden.

Instead of asphalt, raised beds hold squash runners, greens, wheat, corn, beans, sunflowers, peppers, several kinds of tomatoes and much more. Two dozen stone fruit and citrus trees--donated by the Fruit Tree Foundation and Tree People, respectively--border the fence surrounding the green space planted in January. Although some might be worried about the quality and possible toxicity of soil under a decades-old parking lot, Chalupowicz confirms the soil was thoroughly tested and deemed safe before planting. All of the beds have been augmented with other dirt and compost; refuse is now composted on site.

When school is in session, students and teachers are welcomed and help maintain and water the grounds. The garden provides a hands-on, natural science lab and outdoor classroom. Alice Waters' Edible Schoolyard program was one of the inspirations for the project. As Waters' once commented there's nothing like the aliveness of fresh-picked lettuce; taste a sample of freshly culled greens, sweet-as-honey cherry tomatoes and more at the weekly Saturday sessions open to all.

Upcoming projects include the construction of a solar powered generator to power lights and eventually an on-site kitchen for cooking demonstrations. On Saturday August 13, EnrichLA will begin building another community garden--this one at Main Street Elementary; volunteers are welcomed.

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