In a hidden canyon in the heart of Beverly Hills, just a stone’s throw from where little Ronnie Howard skipped barefoot in the opening credits of The Andy Griffith Show, one of L.A.’s oldest existing orange groves has provided 180,000 pounds of free produce to local service organizations since 2010.
The Los Angeles Parks Foundation (LAPF) together with Food Forward has begun the seasonal process of harvesting oranges from about 246 trees in the Franklin Canyon Orange Grove, which will then be distributed to the community via local agencies and food banks, including MEND, Mutual Aid Action Los Angeles, Seeds of Hope, Project Angel Food, and North Hollywood Interfaith Food Pantry.
One of L.A.’s last orange groves, the orchard sits on Department of Water and Power (DWP) land, which the agency has owned since it built the Franklin Canyon Reservoir above the property.
“In 1950, Los Angeles county accounted for more produce than any other single county in the United States,” LAPF Executive Director Carolyn Ramsay tells L.A. Weekly during a recent harvest with 40 volunteers. “This was a typical property in Los Angeles at the time. The DWP needed to create a reservoir in the growing urban environment and Franklin Canyon reservoir was built. The grove was really just ignored, a forgotten remnant. Slowly, water started leaking down from the reservoir and kept the trees alive and producing for 40 years.”
A combination of original mature and newly planted orange trees, LAPF with the help of The David Bohnett Foundation has taken control of the city-owned grove, maintaining it, and together with Food Forward, harvests fresh produce that would otherwise be wasted by rotting on the trees. The Franklin Canyon Orange Grove last year produced 70,000 servings of oranges – mostly navels, with some Valencias – that were harvested and given to people in need.
“This season we’ve already picked well over 10,000 pounds of fruit and the trees are still dripping with oranges,” says Samantha Teslik, Food Forward’s Associate Director of Community Programs as she loads the truck. “Depending on the season, anywhere from 8,000 to 25,000 pounds of fruit is picked on site here. With the current pandemic, the demand from the pantries is higher than ever.”
The Los Angeles Parks Foundation was created during the economic downturn of 2008, when Barry Sanders, who was the chair of the parks commission, took one look at the city’s park budget that had just been slashed and rallied for a much-needed parks foundation like the library foundation. He and Judith Kieffer established the organization that has since then raised $42 million dollars for direct improvements to LA city parks. That’s included everything from installing fitness equipment and buying sports uniforms for kids whose families can’t afford it. The foundation is currently installing a new playground in Ramon Garcia rec center in Boyle Heights with three play areas, as well as a skate park in Watts. LAPF raises the funds and then manages the installation of the project.
“There are 450 parks in LA, and they all need help,” says Ramsay, who also is currently working on restoring the 138-tree original olive grove at Barnsdall Art Park. “They all need assistance in some way. A park director’s printer will break and they’ll call us for help; there are just a thousand teeny tiny needs they have. During Covid, they were operating alternative learning centers for kids who didn’t have Wi-Fi at home and needed to connect to school. They ran homeless shelters in some rec centers to help prevent the spread of the virus in the most vulnerable populations, and as evacuation centers during the fires. The parks department serves as the emergency services vehicle for the city of Los Angeles, so we support all of those initiatives, too.”
Volunteers for the popular Franklin Canyon harvest are recruited online and anybody over the age of 5 is able to participate. The picks are from one and a half to two hours, in groups of 20 to 50, and directly after the fruit is picked, it’s either delivered to or picked up by the service agencies.
“We intentionally time it so we’re ending when people are still on a high, just starting to get a little bit sweaty and tired, but leave wanting more and anxious to come back,” says Teslik. “We’ve already been here four times this season and will be back several more times to harvest the Franklin Canyon orchard. We keep it short and sweet, so people will have a really good time.”
To volunteer in one of these special harvests or donate from your own backyard, go to Food Forward.
Video by @glodegoodvibes