A Kerouac grows in Boyle Heights. The rains are feeding the soil that will also produce an Allen Ginsberg and a Diane di Prima. I'm not talking figuratively as in, there's a poet-in-the-schools at Bridge Elementary School, and she'll inspire the kids to become great writers. Beats are growing in an eastside garden. How do I know this? I saw the sign.
(John Cleese voice here: "This sketch has gone far enough.")
The beats, romoine lettuce and other vegetables and fruits are soaking up the water still clutched tightly by the soil on a third of an acre plot near the corner of Boyle and Bridge streets. For more than a decade the property's owner, White Memorial Hospital, has allowed activists to tend a community garden whose mission is to promote healthy eating by growing fruits and vegetables. It's called Proyecto Jardin, and it's become a green oasis in a mostly paved over neighborhood.
Irene Peña, one of the people that helps run Proyecto Jardin, invited me on Friday to help unload 150 trees for an annual giveaway sponsored by the group Tree People. She didn't question my claim of temporary protected status: journalist. Secretly I was more worried about my shoes.
So I watched as an ochre-colored 1970 Ford van climbed up the steep brick driveway with an asthmatic pant. "The goal is to get fruit trees into underserved communities, especially areas like Boyle Heights where we lack access to affordable, healthy, fresh foods," Peña said.
The trees look like thick, long branches. They're dormant and their nascent roots are covered in bags of wet soil. 59 year-old Roland Silva volunteered his time and his van to help drive the trees from Morningside High School in Inglewood to Boyle Heights. Silva, Peña, and two other volunteers were talked about the high incidence of diabetes, heart disease, and other illnesses and how more fruits and vegetables and less Flamin Hot Cheetos in people's diets will lead to healthier lifestyles.
Silva's parents met at Roosevelt High School in the early 1930s. And that's were he'd go to school too, graduating in the class of 1969. There used to be lots more corner stores in Boyle Heights that sold healthy fare, Silva said. While World War 2 and the Korean War led many people to grow their own vegetables in so-called victory gardens.
"The whole concept of growing your own food, and having your own supply, your own access and a certain amount of independence and the ability to maintain a healthier lifestyle by growing your own food, it's something that is coming back and needs a lot more public awareness and public education," Silva said.
Memories of grape vines and fruit trees in the San Joaquin Valley brought 36 year-old Jaime Garcia to Proyecto Jardin. "I'm not from the city so this is a little spot that gets me away from the urbanness, sometimes you need that space. And so for me being able to work in the ground and get away from the feeling that you're in a large congested area," Garcia said.
His father, in Fresno, taught him and his five brothers to turn over and prepare soil and learn to plant. He also learned important lessons about work ethic.
Colorful tile murals line some of the embankments. The lyrics of "De Colores" and Bob Dylan's "Everything is Broken" are written on some of the tiles.
The property has one of those phantom front steps, the kind that you see in some older Southern California neighborhoods on empty lots where a home either humble or grandiose once stood. The steps always seem to ache and yearn to do their job; to take people into a place of gathering and laughter. The house on this lot is long gone but these concrete steps are once again doing their job at Proyecto Jardin.
Poet and Journalist Adolfo Guzman-Lopez writes his column Movie Miento every Tuesday at 2 p.m. on KCET's SoCal Focus blog. It is a poetic exploration of Los Angeles history, Latino culture and the overall sense of place, darting across LA's physical and psychic borders.
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