Past Slauson, past Florence, where San Pedro turns into Avalon you will find a bucolic parcel of land surrounded by vibrantly painted storefronts and a few foreboding warehouses. The blocks leading up to the John C. Fremont High School feature tortillerias, a few auto body shops, and a party supply store. Apartment buildings crowd the side streets and banana trees tower above single story bungalows. Meanwhile, on campus you might see a neighbor strolling through the orchard or tending to their community garden plot.
In 2012, the Los Angeles Neighborhood Land Trust (LANLT) and UMMA Community Clinic (UMMA) partnered with the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) to build and develop the Fremont Wellness Center and Community Garden as part of the high school campus. Situated between downtown and Compton, it is one of the few farms in South L.A (yes there are more than one) that is open to the public.
Standing beside the newly constructed greenhouse, Megan Laird, LANLT Gardens & Youth Program Manager, explains that a successful project is only possible with an invested community. Creating parks and gardens in underserved neighborhoods might be a worthwhile cause to support in terms of its desirable output, she says, but maintaining and operating completed projects is just as important if not more so than garnering interest. “It takes more than money for these spaces to remain activated community assets,” shares Chandelle Wiebe, Director of Development & Communications at the Land Trust. To cultivate significant place-making, said Wiebe, LANLT takes a holistic approach that fosters the community’s sense of ownership by including their individual ideas in the design-build process.
In this sense, Fremont is unique in its activation and partnership – “with our community partner UMMA, were able to arrange a formal agreement with LAUSD which opens the campus to the public,” Wiebe explained. UMMA, a local proponent of wellbeing and healthcare for the underserved, runs a community clinic on the campus providing services for students and community members alike. UMMA and the LA Neighborhood Land Trust are also responsible for bi-weekly, on-site produce fairs that donate surplus food collected in partnership with Food Forward. In this regard, partnerships are a strategic necessity ensuring the Fremont garden’s accessibility to a demographic more diverse than high school students alone.
In a conversation with Beth Kent, LANLT policy fellow, about the project’s impact she described a countywide park assessment, which in 2019 measured South L.A. as a park poor community. “A lot of the neighborhoods labeled as park poor in this study are also heavily developed. Without vacant land as a resource it’s much more challenging to create public open space.” Density may be one of the factors limiting park space in cities, but LANLT has found a solution to work around this by leveraging the campus as a meaningful community asset.
LAUSD is the largest landowner in the county, holding 6,400 acres as reported by the LA Times in 2018. With Fremont as a successful model, the LANLT is now facilitating advocacy efforts directed at the transformation of underutilized school property into public green spaces for neighborhoods that are otherwise lacking access to parks and gardens.
Hancock Park and South LA may be bisected by several freeways, but the LANLT has brought them closer. Over the years, Hancock Park residents have opened their homes to fundraise for LANLT projects, including the Fremont Wellness Center and Community Garden. This last June, a garden party was hosted at the residence of Clara and Larry Yust, where $13,000 was raised to support this year’s cohort of Garden Apprentice Program (GAP) students.
“We recognize that students enrolled in GAP are often expected to be responsible financially in some regards either for themselves or for their family,” Wiebe explained. “To honor our student’s participation in this extra curricular program, we supplement their efforts with a stipend which also reinforces their commitment to their community, the good food movement, and ultimately themselves.” For interested community members, a similar opportunity is offered- 30 raised bed plots are available to rent on a monthly basis, which by applying for grants membership to gardening workshops as well as projects or discussions on the farm.
Curious about what might be next? The Land Trust celebrates the grand opening of the new Golden Age Park, November 2nd. Awarded as a community improvement project by a 2019 AARP grant, a camera crew will be filming the event to promote and document this year’s grant winners. Rain or shine, you are invited and families are encouraged!
Golden Age Park Grand Opening Celebration
Saturday November 2nd, 10:30AM – 12:00PM
738 South Coronado Street, Los Angeles, CA, 90057