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L.A. graduates green gardeners [updated]

February 25, 2010 | 10:13 am

Flaxlily There’s a lot of talk about green jobs being the savior for the country’s disturbingly high un- and under-employment rates. But the city of L.A. is actively working to create some.

In a quiet ceremony on the third floor of L.A.’s City Hall on Wednesday, 23 gardeners were awarded certificates for completing a green gardener training course that is seen as a template for creating jobs that will also protect the environment.

"Since last spring, we’ve been working on this program to train gardeners in managing and maintaining the designs of the 21st century garden in Southern California, which is a garden that uses drought-tolerant plants and that retains and reuses rainwater," said L.A. Board of Public Works Commissioner Paula Daniels, who helped pioneer the program.

Thirty-one gardeners participated in the pilot training program that began late last year. Funded with $250,000 in federal stimulus money awarded through L.A.’s Community Development Department, and conducted in partnership with the immigrant education group Institute of Popular Education of Southern California, the pilot program will run two additional classes that will raise the total number of trained green gardeners to 120.

The six-day, 48-hour training educates gardeners in sustainable strategies for making better use of water, such as incorporating drought-tolerant plants, drip irrigation, smart controllers and mulch. The curriculum, which was developed by the Los Angeles and San Gabriel Rivers Watershed Council, also focused on soil types, sun patterns, microclimates and how to work with clients to educate them in water-saving gardening practices and its money-saving potential.

Christopher McKinnon, a board member of the Mar Vista Community Council, offered his home for one of the initial training sessions.

"About 50 class members came to my house and toured my front and backyard where I’d removed my lawn," said McKinnon, whose landscape also incorporates rain barrels, composting and drip irrigation.

Now McKinnon is hoping to hire some of the recently graduated green gardeners to maintain a piece of property in his neighborhood.

"This program is doing two things," said Serena Lin, staff attorney at the public interest law firm, Public Counsel, and co-creator of the green gardener training program. "It’s empowering low-income workers to get better jobs because they’re increasing their skill levels and giving them the toolkit to create an environmentally sustainable Los Angeles."

In an effort to connect environmental policy with a sustainable business model, Lin is also helping the green gardeners to become a sustainable entity themselves. She, along with the UCLA Downtown Labor Center and other partner organizations, have helped the gardeners create a limited liability corporation called Native Green to help broaden the program. A for-profit operation created in conjunction with the Institute of Popular Education of Southern California, Native Green provides green gardening services to paying customers and is not subsidized with L.A. city government funds. [Updated 2-25-10, 2:20 p.m.: A previous version of this post did not explain the Native Green business model.]

-- Susan Carpenter

Photo: Monrovia Growers

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