The seeds of a five-year investment to improve access to fresh produce by First 5 LA reached full bloom in late July with the grand opening of Belvedere Community Garden in East Los Angeles – the last of eight community gardens constructed throughout Los Angeles County.
The opening was celebrated by L.A. County Board of Supervisor Chair Hilda Solis, the Los Angeles Conservation Corps, the Los Angeles Community Garden Council & the Neighborhood Land Trust, as well as community families and leaders and representatives from First 5 LA.
“We’re proud to invest in this initiative so that families can come together with their children,” said First 5 LA Commissioner Marlene Zepeda. “I grew up in La Verne. I know how important spaces are for families. When you're growing up in a crowded space, with no yards, and children are playing in parking lots, parks and open spaces are very important for young children to grow and develop.”
In 2012, as part of the Healthy Food Access Initiative, First 5 LA awarded a five-year, $5 million grant to the Los Angeles Conservation Corps (LACC) to construct the eight gardens. With approximately 30 plots at each garden, the project currently provides a minimum of 6,000 pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables per year and serves over 100 families with children prenatal to age 5.
“We’re proud to invest in this initiative so that families can come together with their children” -Marlene Zepeda
The lead on this project, the Los Angeles Conservation Corps, created Little Green Fingers as a brand for the gardens and have leveraged an additional $110,000 for supplemental activities and enhancement of the program. The gardens provide open spaces for communities to develop the infrastructure to grow and consume fruits and vegetables in an effort to support obesity prevention, increase food security, provide physical activity and support community connectedness.
To ensure families can fully benefit from having the Belvedere Community Garden at their fingertips, Little Green Fingers will feature ongoing activities that will include: gardening education, nutrition classes, and cooking classes at no cost.
“The goal of these eight gardens was to engage more families with young children in gardening and in being able to grow fresh fruits and vegetables with their family,” First 5 LA Community Investments program officer Jessica Monge explained. “We believe that having open spaces in communities greatly enhances families’ ability to support their children in the best possible way, offering a place to interact and build relationships in their community.”
A unique feature of this project is that the community had key input in the designing and building of the garden.
“Since day one, families and community members have had real ownership in this garden. Before ground was broken, they provided ideas and told us what would work best for their families. They worked with corps members down to mulching and spreading dirt. They were part of the entire process,” said LACC Marketing Director Kea Duggan.
The partnership with LACC served an important dual purpose, providing their corps members the opportunity to learn new employable skills.
“This project helped both little children and our young adults. The garden directly benefits the community residents and it’s also a fantastic opportunity for our corps members. One of our corps members is a gardener here. They saw that transformation from a barren lot to a safe space and healthy start for families,” Duggan explained.
"I helped build the garden from the ground up. From grading to cement pouring, to transferring dirt and helping assemble the garden plots. I’m a single mother of two daughters and one of 35 families that will have a garden box here,” said LACC member Elizabeth Sierra “It’s important for children to learn how to grow their own food. It's a secure way to ensure their food is organic and that they’re eating healthy. This is amazing.”
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In other success-related news, First 5 LA joined its’ partners on June 30 to celebrate the grand opening of the Vermont Manzanita Apartments. This 40-unit building in Koreatown now houses 15 formerly homeless prenatal to 5 families who have had some experience with the child welfare system.
“It was a special treat to meet a few of the families who kindly opened their new homes for us visitors to tour,” said First 5 LA grants management officer Sharon Murphy.
Vermont Manzanita is the third of five First 5 LA capital developments for homeless families as part of First 5 LA's Homeless Permanent Supportive Housing initiative. First 5 LA contributed $3.5 million to build the units and another $200,000 to fund supportive services for the residents.