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Farm to Fork: Gardeners dish ideas for growing community

1-Fork-Lee 1-Fork-Denise-Martin 1-Fork-Glen-DakeCommunity Gardens Dispatch No. 51: Farm to Fork

Among the most interesting topics of discussion at the fifth annual Gathering of the Community Gardens Farm to Fork conference: restaurant-supported agriculture. The phrase refers to a model for food production and community development advocated by Farmworks Los Angeles, a Silver Lake nonprofit organization founded by Charles Lee.

Whereas community gardens divide land into individual plots, each controlled and tended by a different person or group, Lee said, restaurant-supported agriculture calls for an urban farm maintained by a small crew collectively. Farmworks’ goal is to give at-risk youth restaurant training in the form of seasonal gardening internships. The youths water, weed and harvest the land, and over time they see a plant go from ground to kitchen.

The organization has set up with a demonstration farm at Solano Canyon Community Garden, and interns have been recruited from the Homegirl Cafe. The model has worked on myriad levels, producing tasty organic food as well as serving as a form of youth development.

This year, the program’s third, the group is producing more than 6,000 pounds of edibles, mostly vegetables and herbs. Much of it is “farm greens,” says Mark Donofrio of Larchmont Grill, one of the three restaurants supporting the farm. They had such a harvest this past season that he had to change his menu. He’s still getting more greens than he can use.

“The food comes from downtown, near Dodger Stadium, grown on this piece of land near the 110,” he said. “It doesn’t get any more local than that.”

The Farmworks discussion was one of many during the event, which drew people from about 25 community gardens last week to Loma Alta Park, next to the Altadena Community Garden. Workshops also covered community building, seed saving and wild mushrooms. The keynote address by L.A. at Home columnist Emily Green on water was a reminder of the finite resources that we easily forget, especially at the start of rainy season.

The team behind Pasadena Community Gardens set up a table complete with a map of its first proposed garden, a Manhattan-shaped stretch of vacant land with about 60 plots, now under consideration. I saw the group for the first time last spring at a school nutrition festival at Woodrow Wilson High. Included in the group's handout was a two-page guide to setting up a community garden.

0-Fork-Megan-Bomba 0-Fork-DundonDown in the Altadena garden itself, David King and Megan Bomba, far right, from the Seed Library of Los Angeles gave classes, while up in one of the meeting rooms, Nicole Gatto spoke about L.A. Spouts, a gardening and nutrition intervention program that her Highland Park garden has hosted.

Tim Dundon, near right, something of a legend in garden circles as a compost king, fronted a rock band that let loose with a high-decibel sermon about "doo doo." Manure and bedding from horse stables mixed with garden trimmings and vegetables that are past their prime -- all just part of the farm-to-fork cycle.

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-- Jeff Spurrier

Corrected: An earlier version of this post mispelled Mark Donofrio's name as Denofrio and misidentifed Megan Bomba in the photos.

Top photos: Charles Lee, left, founder of Farmworks; Denise Martin, who drove from Portland, Ore., for the event; landscape architect Glen Dake of the Los Angeles Community Garden Council. Credit: Ann Summa

 
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