Community Garden Flourishes in Heart of East L.A.

El Vaquero Editor in Chief

Walking up to the entrance of Proyecto Jardin is like walking towards the open arms of a loved one. A sense of camaraderie permeates throughout the community garden, kissing every inch of the soil, plants, trees and the hands that help sow the future of Boyle Heights, one seed at a time.

Looking around, one would never imagine that the garden, adjacent to White Memorial Hospital, was once a run-down crack house and a breeding ground for all kinds of debauchery.

No remnants of illicit activities remain only tools, fertile soil and faces, like that of Daisy Tonantzian, who look to instill hope and advocate healthier lifestyles within the local community through gardening.

“We’re a communal garden, we all plant together and we all harvest together,” said Tonantzian. “Yes, we recognize that our communities need food, but we don’t have the capacity to feed the whole community-we do have the capacity to train people on how to do it themselves.”

Tonantzian is one of the five project coordinators that sit in the Proyecto Jardin committee. She has been involved with the project for almost four years and continues to be one of the leading advocates for the garden.

The committee is currently working on establishing the Peace for Tomorrow Foundation, a non-profit organization that Tonantzian hopes will acquire a year-to-year lease on the property where the garden sits, which is owned by White Memorial Hospital.

“[The goal] is to secure the land lease,” said Tonantzian. “They [White Memorial Hospital] can decided to build a clinic … fortunately that hasn’t happened yet.”

The garden counts with the assistance of several members of the community who turn-out regularly to keep the garden flourishing.
Some of these members include vendors at the Caracol Marketplace, a grassroots economic movement intended to generate funding for the garden.

Jesus Soto, a vendor at the marketplace, believes that the communal garden is also a great way for the community to learn about nutrition and the value of cultivating their own foods.
“[The garden is a way] to share knowledge and a way of creating something yourself,” said Soto. “[To know] where it’s [the food] is coming from, to know the value of it because you had to take care of it … is a big thing.”

Soto has been vending at Caracol Marketplace for almost two years. He became involved with the project when Lily Flor, a fellow vendor, introduced him to the idea of the marketplace.

At the marketplace Soto sells homemade Kombucha tea, a tea whose distinct taste and medicianal benefits come from the symbiotic culture placed in the tea.

A cup of Kombucha costs $1 donation, but the benefits are limitless, according to Soto.

“It boosts energy levels, [serves as a] natural detoxifier … and it’s really helpful if you apply it to your skin,” said Soto.
Soto is very active in the maintaining of the garden. On several occassions, he can be found with a shovel, digging up the soil and cleaning up weeds.

Although it is not required for the vendors to be that hands on when it comes to the garden, most do their part and share in the responsibilites.

The $25 it takes to set up a booth at the marketplace is a help itself.

Lisa Rocha, another vendor at the marketplace and founder of Ilaments jewelry, said that the fee to set up a booth is “minimal.”

Rocha hopes that the continued success of Caracol Marketplace and the garden itself “will serve as an example for other cities.”
“[I hope it] gives the message that it’s important to maintain places like this and support places like this,” said Rocha. “In the future, because of that [support], hoping that we have a future, that it [the garden] doesn’t end like the South Cental farm.”

The South Central farm, located in Los Angeles on 41st and Alameda street, is a 14-acre urban garden that was established in 1992. The farmers were evacuated this past summer after receiving a notice from the city, informing them that the property was being sold to a private developer.