Urban gardens are abloom in South Los Angeles
Shirley Hawkins | 6/17/2009, 5 p.m.
In today's recessionary times, many South Los Angeles residents find themselves scrambling to keep food on the table.
But never fear. The urban garden is taking root in South Los Angeles quicker than Kobe's famous jump shot. Fresh fruits and vegetables are not being grown down on the farm anymore.
Residents are biting into fresh fruits and vegetables that are sprouting up anywhere from spacious backyards to a tiny window sill.
On Saturday, June 20 from noon to 1:30 p.m., South Los Angeles residents will get the low down on how to start their own urban gardens from master organic gardener Eugene Cooke at the Lotus on the Nile located at 4307 Crenshaw Blvd.
"The new mantra is to grow food where you are and share it with those you love," said Cooke, who has been teaching urban gardening for 15 years.
"My family has been growing food forever," said Cooke. "We had a small garden on the side of the house and my mother and my father insisted that I take care of the garden. We grew tomatoes, peppers, corn, squash, zucchini, and eggplant."
Cooke said that space is no problem for anyone interested in starting a garden. "I can teach anyone how to maximize a small space by growing their gardens vertically. You can actually take a trellis and grow fruits and vegetables that way," said Cooke. Not only that, but Cooke said he will teach attendees how to use newspaper, cardboard and old fencing to create a garden.
"I will also teach the basics of starting a garden, such as how to improve the soil by gathering up leaves, lawn clippings, vegetable scraps and compost and placing them on top of the existing soil.
That increases the fertility. I'll teach them the importance of saving seeds from fruits and vegetables. It's also important to water your garden at least twice a week."
Cooke reports that he will teach community residents how to grow such favorites as collard greens, spinach, kale, mustard greens, tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, squash and green beans.
"Most people are interested in growing an urban garden because of the economy. They can save money and harvest food from their own back yard. Another reason may be they are suffering from health problems," said Cooke. "If the medication is not working and people feel unhealthy, they return to the soil. Agriculture is at the center of every great civilization," Cooke observed.
Organic vegetables are the only kind Cooke eats. "There's a different taste with organic fruits and vegetables. Many people may not be aware that fruits and vegetables found in the stores are sprayed with pesticides and herbicides. Not only that, but supermarket food travels as much as 1,500 miles before it reaches the dinner table," said Cooke. "Most of the time, the fruits and vegetables have to be harvested before they are ripe."
Cooke said he was gratified that the White House recently brought organic gardening into the public eye when First Lady Michelle Obama planted a garden on the grounds of the White House.
"She's knows the health benefits of a natural garden," Cooke pointed out. And I see she's using the garden as a teaching tool to get youths to understand the cycle of life."
Splitting his time between Atlanta, Georgia and Los Angeles, Cooke who has a degree in mechanical drafting and fine arts, is a co-partner in the Truly Living Well Natural Urban Farm, a one-acre farm in Atlanta. "We supply food from our farm to about 80 families who want organic fruits and vegetables," said Cooke. "For a 13-week subscription, they come and pick up food each week from the farm."
As the founder and CEO of Gebsite, which creates organic gardens, Cooke finds new ways to use his green thumb. "We install small home gardens and fruit orchards for people all over the world." Gardens have been planted in Nairobi, Kenya, as well as in the District of Columbia, Texas, Georgia and California.
Cooke is confident that the urban garden revolution will continue to sprout. "I want residents to gain a sense of confidence that they can grow their own food," said Cooke, who added that every attendee will receive a packet of information about organic gardening. For more information, call Lotus on the Nile at (323) 412-1828 ext. 10.