By Angie Orellana Hernandez
When I first heard we were visiting a garden embedded in an elementary school, I had presumed that it would be a small space growing essential vegetables.
I was familiar with the concept of urban agriculture through another trip I took a few years ago to an urban farm near Exposition Park. The worker there told me that the farm’s very foundation was providing community-based garden education to better food accessibility in South Central.
I remember the farm was small, but it made use of every inch that it had. And upon my visit to the 24th Street Elementary School garden, I realize that a similar thread of urban agriculture is growing to combat food insecurity.
The very principles of this begin with acknowledging that over 80% of the United States population live in urban areas, and that within that percentage, many families do not have accessible nutritional assets such as organic fruits and vegetables.
As a result of this, the article “La agricultura urbana un brote de esperanza entre cinturones de asfalto” states that “Las consecuencias son devastadoras: obesidad, diabetes y enfermedades cardiovasculares.”
Often, this is a result of systemic and environmental racism that places communities of color in a bind with what access they have to green spaces that can grow food of nutritional value. For example, being from South Sacramento, a low-income neighborhood with houses and apartments tightly packed together, I’ve noticed that community gardens do not exist in the area. This is not the case in the wealthier neighborhoods in Sacramento, where there are ample parks and lots of space to devote a garden too.
The most stark difference of it all is the accessibility that comes with grocery shopping. In South Sacramento, there are cheap grocery stores, but there is rarely the kind that offers organic and healthy food, such as a Trader Joe’s.
As time passed, however, there has been more of an effort to incorporate community gardens into the area. My elementary school has one tiny garden that often goes unmaintained because of the short staff, but the idea remains there.
As Karen Washington writes in “How Urban Agriculture Can Fight Racism in the Food System,” “People began community gardens collectively, coming together to change something that was devastated into something that is beautiful. Community gardens were a way to take ownership and to control the food and economics in our neighborhoods.”
Establishing community gardens and other urban agricultural places allows for the community to reclaim such spaces. However, the problem with community gardens is that they are often poorly advertised or run on volunteership alone, which is a great and notable thing, but can often come with burnout. Especially in places which are run by a small number of people, it can be hard to maintain a garden as part of volunteership and devote proper time for it to flourish into something an entire community can use.
For example, while USC technically has a garden, not many people know about it. This lends itself a problem to those who need the fresh vegetables and gardens, and it also is problematic to those who want to help maintain the garden but are unsure of where to go.
The folks over at 24th Street Elementary, however, have seemed to figure this out by incorporating the students into the garden maintenance and by creating a program where local community members are hired into the cafeteria and composting program. This, in my opinion, provides great motivation for the community to get involved.
My overall takeaway from the experience is how much potential there is with teaching the next generation of students how to get involved in garden education. This allows them to learn to grow fruits and vegetables, while understanding what they can possibly make from them (such as the strawberry avocado salsa) and how they can incorporate such lessons into their future lives.
I took this class to learn more about Los Angeles, and to also help me along my journey to become less of a picky eater. I can gladly say that I have accomplished both.
One of the first memories I think of was when we took the field trip to Boyle Heights because even though I’m a senior, I had never been there before. I remember being hesitant about the taco because I had never eaten one that looked like that — I used to be solely a chicken taco with cilantro and a little bit of guacamole and salsa person — so the only thing that run through my head was how embarrassing it would be if I didn’t eat the taco with everyone in front of me.
The risk paid off though because it was one of the best things I had ever eaten. My all-time favorite place we went to though was Mariscos Jalisco because I had never tried a shrimp taco before and that changed my life forever.
Among the topics we discussed, I think one that will stay with me forever was the topic of street vendors and the fight for the legalization of their businesses. This is especially due to the visit from Merced Sanchez who so generously told us about her experiences.
What I’ll ultimately takeaway is how important it is to look at food from various sorts of angles — including authenticity, its criminalization, what we consider to be fine dining, the globalization aspects, etc, in order to become better eaters. While I may have not reached the level of Jonathan Gold in one semester, I can at least say I have become a better consumer.
“How urban agriculture can fight racism in the food system,” https://civileats.com/2020/07/10/op-ed-how-urban-agriculture-can-fight-racism-in-the-food-system/
La agricultura urbana un brote de esperanza entre cinturones de asfalto – Los Angeles Times