by Richard Risemberg
It's on an unassuming corner of Venice Boulevard in the far western reaches of los Angeles, only a couple of miles from the beach and the famous boardwalk. Even the folksy sign announcing "The Learning Garden" is painted in rustic hues that almost disappear into the shrubbery crowded up behind the fence. The corner is dominated by large stucco-box apartments and the wide, bare asphalt of Venice Boulevard itself, and of course the buildings and parking lots of the adjacent high school, which owns the land.
The school used to administer the programs, too, in two separate epochs. Up until the late 'Fifties, the school taught serious agriculture on the plot, but in the latter half of the century interest ebbed, and the plowed fields became another lost and dirty vacant lot.
Around 2001, neighborhood volunteers teamed with the school to revive the program, but the school's commitment of time and funding faltered periodically as varous social crises shook the community. After a few faltering years a solid group of committed volunteers formed a non-profit in order to obtain funds dedicated to the day-to-day operation of the garden, and took over its administration.
Today the garden still hosts classes in agriculture in coordination with Venice high School, but also provides space to community residents, UCLA horticulture students (through another program), and the Yo San University of Traditional Chinese Medicine, as well as several other entities.
There is a Garden Master, currently David King, assisted by numerous hard-working and knowledgable volunteers who help the students and residents learn the ways of food and herbs.
Here are photos showcasing a few of the garden's many plots--taken in mid-January, so you can see that the garden is productive even in the least nurturing season.
The remnant of an old greenhouse from the garden's first incarnation is still in use.
This "keystone garden" was a practice run for building similar water-efficient gardens in African communities.
Broccoli thrives in one of UCLA's garden patches.
Part of the community garden section looking full and lush in January.
The native plants garden, with some of Venice High School visible beyond the fence.
Read more at the Learning Garden website.