Tuesday, May 03, 2011

San Pedro High's planned community garden in which the entire community is being asked to come help volunteer time, donate plants or support with funding.

The plot of land the way it looks now before work begins to make this a rich resource of vegetables and herbs to be used in the school.

 One Volunteer, One Service Organization and the Los Angeles Mayor’s Office – Along With a Handful of Teachers – Planted the Seed and Now a Community Garden Will Bloom At Last at San Pedro High School

By Diana L. Chapman

For years, it was a large patch of wasteland at San Pedro High. A thin, rectangular block of land, with dampened and mucky  grass, plenty of litter and a place where no one wanted to sit – ever.

But a handful of visionaries, rooting around to make a dream come true, decided that the campus needed a plush community garden where they could teach students what real vegetables look like, how to grow them as well as how to cook them during an after school cooking club.

James Weston, a community volunteer who runs the cooking club, and teachers Guadalupe Franco and Sally Leonhart, who teaches nutrition, started out with an idea that Principal Jeanette Stevens immediately backed. They studied the campus to determine where such a garden might flourish until it was settled that one plot – in particular –was the most feasible.

“It was total wasteland, like a swampland,” said Weston, who spent hours researching and finally designing what could be done with the 160 foot long by 15 foot wide piece of earth tucked between the campuses’ main and science buildings, an empty space not even the students use.

But then Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s staff caught wind of the project and planted it as one of the city’s Day of Service Projects on May 14.

Ricardo Hong, who works for the mayor, in turn brought in Sharefest, Inc. a non-profit organization based in Torrance that is capable of not only bringing in hordes of volunteers as manpower – but  experts as well – along with $12,000 it raised in donations for the garden, one of its many projects. Sharefest is still seeking donations and manpower for the new garden.

“We are thrilled to come alongside San Pedro High School and provide funding, skilled tradesman, numerous volunteers and the necessary support to pull off this wonderful project that will benefit students and families for generations, said Chad Mayer, Sharefest’s executive director. “We are into making dreams come true.”

The next thing Weston knew was he had a whirlwind of help – including Sharfest producing Karen A. Collins, a  landscape architect, designer and contractor who runs LivingColor Landscape in Lomita.

Once visiting the site, the landscape architect said the campus’, rich architecture roused the artistry in her to make it more than just a vegetable garden but a space of beauty.

“ Looking at the Art Deco architecture of San Pedro High School inspired my imagination to create a garden that had both artistic and functional qualities,” Collins said via email. “In order to create enthusiasm, James and I agreed we would create a garden environment that would draw people in and allow the community and students to get involved.”

They’ve named it a “Victory Garden,” which were used during World War I and II and were encouraged by governments in Canada, America, England and Germany to reduce the strain on public food supplies. Citizens used backyards, vacant lots and public parks to start vegetables and herb gardens to help feed their countries.

Often, the resources were shared amongst families and neighbors.

“This is where the ‘Victory’ begins, working together and sharing a common bond,” Collins said.

Weston said he was thrilled to dump his original, but amateur plans to make way for Collin’s vision.

“It’s changed completely,” Weston said, who added that its “aesthetically pleasing,” as well as practical. “It’s a more permanent set up.”

Naming it a “Victory Garden,” he added, shows “that we can grow a sustainable garden in an urban area.”

Teacher Sally Leonhart agreed that the initial germinating of the project was small and she’s amazed how it’s blossomed once the non-profit and the mayor’s office came aboard.

“It’s going to be far more better than we ever imagined,” Leonhart said. “I’m glad I could be part of the jump start. What I’m really looking forward to is getting the kids in on the planting and for us to watch it grow.”

So far, the organization has raised nearly $12,000, but still much more is needed. Sharefest is accepting a variety of donations including:

--Seeds or propagated plants required for the garden.

--Community volunteers to build and continue maintaining the garden.

--Funds to purchase more of the necessary plants and equipment.

Accented with mosaic art works and circular plots, the garden would include much of San Pedro’s heritage, such as reflecting San Pedro’s Italian community with an herb garden that includes cilantro and basil. The herb garden will have four different types of basil, Mrs. Burns lemon, purple petra, genovese and fino verde.

The garden will also include organic cabbage, three types of eggplant, several types of lettuce, peppers, squash, herbs and native flowers as pollinators.

Some work will begin before the kick off day of May 14, Collins said, explaining that the first stage will start with the irrigation, electrical and masonry work. The second phase will include decorative tiles, an entrance gate and a “Mirror Mural” before heritage vegetables and herbs are added.

Weston wants the garden to bond the community.

“This is important to me because it’s weaving together the community, bringing together the old and the young, the ethnic backgrounds, the rich, the poor,” Weston said, who added that his major hope is that it will rally the community around the school.

“We love the idea of a community garden at San Pedro High School because we know it will bring Pedrans together,” said Hong, who is in charge of the mayor’s Harbor  area office. “We hope the project will spark all kinds of new ideas from all those involved, especially the young students who are naturally creative when they are given an opportunity.”