Recently, City of Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks gave the okay for Urban Fruit Trails to grow inside two city parks. Groundbreaking for the project, a collaboration between Heart of Los Angeles (HOLA) and Fallen Fruit, will take place on May 18 at the Bryson Building on Wilshire Boulevard and nearby Lafayette Park. Throughout May and June, the group will plant twelve fruit trees inside Lafayette Park, as well as another dozen in MacArthur Park.
The significance of this decision is massive, not just for the parties involved, but for the surrounding communities. This isn't an ordinary public art project. "It's a different way to view art-making and it was definitely going to have a positive impact on the neighborhood," says Nara Hernandez, Visual Arts Director for HOLA. "Whereas a bronze sculpture in the park was only going to reach and impact so many people, planting trees throughout the community was going to nourish a greater number of people."
The concept for Urban Fruit Trails was brought forth by Fallen Fruit, the duo of Austin Young and David Burns. Fallen Fruit is an art collaboration originally conceived in 2004 by David Burns, Matias Viegener and Austin Young. Since 2013, David and Austin have continued the collaborative work. In their work, the Los Angeles-based artists use fruit to spark dialogue within communities. Last year, they won a Creative Capital Award for a new project called Endless Orchard, which will bring trees to city neighborhoods. Urban Fruit Trails is the pilot project for Endless Orchard. It's supported by a grant from Robert Rauschenberg Foundation's Artistic Innovation and Collaboration Program, which was awarded to HOLA.
David Burns of Fallen Fruit says that this project does have similarities to what they have done in the past. They're going through the same sort of process that they would for museum works, he says, but it won't culminate in an exhibition. "The actual trees themselves and creating the media for online is what we would do as the exhibition component to share with other people," says Burns.
What makes this project different for Fallen Fruit is that they will be working with the young people who are part of HOLA's after school programs.
It also wasn't a decision taken lightly by the Department of Recreation and Parks. HOLA and Fallen Fruit had to answer a lot of questions. They had to explain why it's okay for the trees to be irrigated with reclaimed water. They had to answer questions about potential hazards stemming from the trees. "All of these trees are going to be dwarf trees," says Hernandez. Still, they'll purchase fruit-pickers to discourage climbing. The organizations also researched illnesses developing from fruit conception. It's a rare scenario. They explained how fruit trees are low maintenance. "They will sustain themselves as long as they are watered and the community will be there to pick the fruit," Hernandez explains. HOLA will ensure that the trees in the parks receive the care that the need inside the parks as in other spots along the trails.
The benefits of fruit trees clearly outweighed any potential problems.
Located in Los Angeles' Rampart District, HOLA has spent nearly 25 years serving the area and they have had a long-standing relationship with the Department of Recreation and Parks. Part of HOLA's operations exist inside Lafayette Park, where the proposed fruit trees would be located. The organization, which also reaches out to residents in nearby Westlake and Pico-Union as well, provides after school programs ranging from sports to academics to creative pursuits. They work in a part of town where high school graduation rates hover around 40 percent. For the past three years, though, 100 percent of HOLA students have graduated high school. "All of our seniors are going to colleges," says Hernandez. It's a unique program, as well as a popular one; there is a waiting list to get into HOLA.
The students will be involved in the creation of the fruit trails, which will feature art at specific sites. The idea isn't just to teach kids about how to grow fruit; it's about more than art as well. Urban Fruit Trails is also a way to encourage young people to explore their own neighborhoods.
At HOLA, the arts programs aren't there specifically to serve future painters and sculptors. "Not all of our students become great artists, although many of our alumni have," says Hernandez. Instead, HOLA uses art to help students attain other goals. The mission, Hernandez says, is teach them a process to encourage them to "become problem solvers and creative thinkers."
Fallen Fruit will be working with the youth during weekly, two-hour sessions. The group will consist primarily of middle and high school students, as well as some alumni who are now mentors for the program. Together, they will locate the spots where trees will be planted. They will work with neighbors to secure the permissions needed to plant. They will work on a map, in addition to other projects.
Part of the project's ambitions is to build relationships through the community. The students will engage in Fallen Fruit's "Lemonade Stand" project, where people trade stories for lemonade.
"A lot of the kids, they leave their home, they go to school. They leave their school, they go to HOLA, then they go back home," says Hernandez. "They don't explore the neighborhood. They don't know the history of the neighborhood."
According to Los Angeles Times' "Mapping L.A." project, Westlake is home to more than 38,000 people per square mile. It is the second most densely populated neighborhood in the city. Only Koreatown is more dense. Pico-Union isn't that far behind; it has the fourth highest population density in Los Angeles, with over 25,000 people per square mile. They are also neighborhoods with low median income rankings. "Mapping L.A." reports that the median income in Westlake is $26,757. In Pico-Union, it's $26,424. These are neighborhoods where a little fruit can go a long way.
"It can be a food desert," says Hernandez of the neighborhoods that will benefit from Urban Fruit Trail. "Sometimes it's very difficult to find fresh fruits and vegetables to eat that are accessible. It's really easy to get a bacon-wrapped hot dog or spicy Cheetos or Coca-Cola." Hernandez says that they are often asked what might happen if someone picks all of the fruit from the trees. "These trees will be producing more," she says. "It's about sharing."
"We will declare that these fruit trees are for the public," says artist Austin Young. "They're for the city of Los Angeles. They're for everybody here."
The attitude of fruit as something to share is central to what Young and Burns do. "What we've learned from going to other places in the world and coming back again is that places that have been planted with fruit trees or fruit-bearing-trees are always a place or a space that have an attitude of generosity and hospitality," says Burns.
"That's kind of the spirit by which we want to engage this opportunity and invite young people to really think about where they live and what it means when you create resource for someone else," he continues, "especially when it's someone that you might not really know, how that sense of humanity and culture come together."
Watch our mini-doc on the work of Fallen Fruit: