Highland Park, Los Angeles, is an epicenter of change currently. Property values are skyrocketing, and new businesses are attracting people from all around to come and indulge in the unique culture and atmosphere of Historic Highland Park.
Just across the street from the iconic Frank’s Camera building and newly opened Highland Park Bowl, the Highland Theatre lights up the sky on the weekends with its locally famous green marquis lights, reminiscent of the exciting buzz of yesteryear, when families would head out to Figueroa Street for a night of wining, dining, entertainment and socializing.
Behind the theatre, whose backside is tattooed with awe inspiring street art, is the Milagro Allegro Community Garden. As summer falls upon us, new life is breathed into the once parking lot that now serves as a focal point of community activity and natural beauty for the Northeast Los Angeles (NELA) community.
The garden itself is a place for gardeners to come a rest after stressful days at work, and reap the fruits of their labor (literally). While each plot serves a different purpose to their individual plot owners, the 30+ collective raised wooden plots create an oasis amid an urban landscape.
Last year, among the most successful of the community programs held at the garden was our Amaranth Harvest, hosted by Liz Goetz, MFA in partnership with the Souzas of Art in the Park located in nearby Hermon. A series of educational art classes educated children about the history and purpose of Amaranth plants in Guatemalan culture. By the end of the three-month project, the grains were ready for harvest, and community members gathered to harvest the seeds in traditional Guatemalan practice, and the seeds were then stored in the local seed library to be re-used for this year’s harvest. There are more of these types of programs in the works.
In an ongoing effort to be a zero-waste and water conservative community garden, we have added giant 300-gallon caged water tank. The benefit of the plastic tank is that it is easier to quantify exactly how much the garden is using, as opposed to over watering with traditional hoses and water cans. Another perk is that these plastic tanks are durable, yet easy to mend if they were to become punctured. They don’t rust over time like the heavier, galvanized steel tanks do, making them easier to maneuver around, and more cost efficient.
Rather than watering in the middle of the day, most of our gardeners have taken to the habit of getting to their plots early in the morning, or in the later afternoons to hydrate their plots. By doing this, the water is able to soak to the roots, and enrich the roots as opposed to watering in the middle of the day, when the sun quickly evaporates the water.
It is also imperative to not over water the plants, and make sure that gardeners are not just watering dirt. Native Southern California plants are resilient and actually do well with little water, as they have had to adapt and evolve over the years, especially during the historic drought we have found ourselves in the middle of.
One of our favorite gardeners, Felix, tends to his plot, which has been producing a wealth of amazing mint and abundant lettuce.
Here’s some of the lettuce we are taking home to eat from Felix’s plot!
Another addition to the garden is a large compost system. Generally, successful garden composts are divided into three categories (and they don’t have to be all nice and neat, contrary to what you might read on the internet or in official gardening books). You just need three quasi-separate piles: new compost, aging compost, and ready to use compost. A combination of brown (dry) and green (wet) compost will create the proper nitrogen and carbon to help break down the material, creating a compound of nutrient rich soil to better help your plot become a flourishing bed of growth. It’s easy to get in the habit of creating a designated bin for kitchen scraps that you can heap into your local compost at your convenience!
It is also important to aerate the compost, this can be done with a pitchfork, and by just making sure that air and moisture are reaching all parts of the materials in the compost. This will deliver oxygen where it is needed, keeping the cultures within alive and active. This can be done weekly, or whenever a hefty amount of new material is being added to the compost.
The best things for your compost are easy to find and will help you take step to living a more sustainable and zero-waste lifestyle! Composts can include dead leaves, lawn clippings, food scraps (not including meat and fat), black and white newspaper, manure (preferably from organic-fed sources), and all organic matter.
Each raised plot should cultivate a combination of fertilizer, rich in nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium, grass clippings and/or wood chips (to prevent weed growth, more susceptible in places with direct sunlight), and compost. Grass clippings are an optimal source of organic fertilizer, as it is available via often free local sources, it does double duty preventing weeds and conserving water and garden soil moisture, which is something that not even all bags of pre-packaged commercial mulch does.
The benefits of raised bed garden plots are seemingly endless. They produce a better yield for area because there is better drainage and better opportunity for deeper rooting and stronger crops. It is also easier to rework the soil and top layers from season to season, making your plot ready to serve you all year round.
This season, my plot-mates and I decided to turn all the soil, removing all weeds and excess roots, to make room for our new seedlings. With about five bags of manure from a local source, our plot was ready to get started! It is always encouraged to plant from seeds, and we advocate for this at Milagro Allegro. This year, we purchased our organic seeds from Sunset Nursery in Silver Lake and used a seed started kit to germinate the seeds. When they were ready to be transplanted, we transported them to the plot and arranged them in their appropriate rows. So far so good!
Our giant trellis is being used for our melons, tomatoes, and my favorite—watermelon. Last year, with just one watermelon seed, I was able to manipulate my watermelon vine to work its way all around my giant trellis to create a watermelon tree of sorts. Because of the adaptability of the fruit, the vines strengthened to adapt the the weight of the melons, allowing them to grow and hang in a unique and creative way. I hope to do this same this year! The results were delicious.
There is not shortage of trellises for gardeners to utilize at the garden and there are a variety of sizes and types that can cater to your individual gardening needs. Summer trellises can be used to help grow tomatoes, peas, cucumbers, pole beans, gourds, melons, squash and pumpkins.
During the months of May and June, it is prime time to plant the following for the best results; basil, beans (bush and pole), beets, cantaloupe, carrots, corn, cucumbers, eggplant, jicama, lima beans, mustard, okra, peppers (of all varieties), pumpkin, radish, squash, sunflowers, Swiss chard, tomatoes, watermelon, and zucchini.
There is something satisfying and fulfilling about caring for something and watching it grow. Not only are there aesthetically pleasing benefits of gardening but functional rewards as well. There is a community of local gardeners that congregate to chat and enjoy the outdoors in the middle of a neighborhood where some have lived for generations. But people are welcome to enjoy the garden, whether you are an established resident of the area, or looking to get more involved. Each plot gives a little glimpse into each gardener’s character. So stop by and watch the evolution of the harvests of summer 2016!
Jasmine produces a seducing aroma for passerby’s of every variety.
Fruit trees lining the garden create a more inviting ambiance as opposed to the often deterring chain link fence. The apples are in bloom as wells at the beautiful flowers that grow with them.
If you are interested in starting some sort of community programming in the garden, please contact Andrea Kainuma at email@example.com for more information.
For more background on the genesis and mission of the garden, here is the description as listed on its Facebook page:
“The Milagro Allegro garden is located at 115 S. Avenue 56 in the Northeast Los Angeles community of Highland Park. The garden features 10,000 square feet of land divided into 32 raised plots for cultivating fruits, vegetables and flowers. The garden also features a gathering circle for hosting classes, workshops and community events.
Milagro Allegro is located behind the historic Highland Theater, on 10,000 square feet of land belonging to the City of Los Angeles. Before Milagro Allegro began negotiations for a community garden, the land had remained vacant for 30 years—full of weeds and surrounded by barbed wire.
Thanks to the tremendous efforts of several community members and the support of Los Angeles City Councilmember Ed Reyes, Assemblyman Kevin De Leon, L.A. Department of Transportation, L.A. Community Garden Council, L.A. Conservation Corps, Historic Highland Park Neighborhood Council and Home Depot, the Milagro Allegro Community Garden was able to open its doors.
The Milagro Allegro Community Garden is organized under the Los Angeles Community Garden Council, which supports 70 community gardens throughout Los Angeles County. Collectively, the gardens serve nearly 4,000 families and have become a vibrant part of their communities aimed at reducing poverty, mitigating global warming and benefiting the environment.
Its mission is to be a center of peace and beauty in the community where the cultivation of vegetables, fruits and flowers as well as creative ideas, artistic expression and neighborly values may take place.
The Milagro Allegro Community Garden integrates urban farming, art and education in the heart of the Highland Park neighborhood. Garden plots are available for interested community members. A community gathering space hosts classes, workshops and events. Local schools may incorporate the garden into curriculum or after-school activities. “