At the Veterans Administration in West Los Angeles, there’s work afoot by the Westside Food Bank to restore at least 15 acres to agriculture – a fraction of the 150 acres that were farmed after World War I, but a start.

Community Healing Gardens has put 80 garden beds around Venice, in an effort to bring together a community that seemed indifferent. After school programs, and a partnership with St. Joseph’s have followed.

Kiss the Ground also works in Venice, offering young people a 12-week program in growing, including soil, ecology and job placement. And Taking the Reins near Griiffith Park grows food with the girls who take part in its healing programs that use horses as part of their therapy.

Food is something they clearly have in common. But they, and several other projects, also were all awarded grants through the office of L.A. County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl. They gathered at the Salvation Army Bell shelter on June 3 to share their efforts and take a tour of GrowGood farm.

Molly Rysman had worked at Skid Row Housing Trust. When she joined Kuehl as a deputy, she proposed spending some of the supervisor’s discretionary funds for a program called Food for the Soul.

Its aims, Rysman says, are to increase food security, provide a therapeutic environment and break the social isolation that can come with homelessness. “When your hands are in the dirt,” many differences among people dissolve, she says.

The 2-year-old Food for the Soul project awards grants of $5,000 to $20,000 to nonprofit organizations in the Third District for programs that engage people who have experienced homelessness, in agriculture, nutrition and cooking to improve food security and community.

The Westside Food Bank put in a couple dozen raised beds at the VA as a test project. Since October, the food has gone to about 150 veterans, distributed from a tailgate each week. Often, the veterans who work the land eat the food, said Bruce Rankin, executive director of the Food Bank. The goal is to add more beds and to work with the teaching kitchen on the VA campus, Rankin says.

Other organizations receiving grants included Kiss the Ground, Safe Space for Youth, Step Up on Second, the Center at Blessed Sacrament in Hollywood, The People’s Concern and the Teen Project.

“We don’t have the most efficient garden. But it’s the most efficient for creating relationships,” says Kelvin Martinez, program facilitator at the Center at Blessed Sacrament in Hollywood

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After a meeting in the shelter building, participants walked around GrowGood, led in part by Sharon Pregerson, whose son is one of the farm’s founders.

“I just let all my problems go when I’m out here,” Velva told the group. He recently completed the GrowGood transitional employment program and has stayed on as an employee.

Taylor, a young woman who takes part in the gardening program at the Teen Project, understood that sentiment. “When the garden grows, I feel myself grow too. It’s a beautiful process.”

The meeting ended with lunch, including herbal tea and salad – both made from GrowGood produce.

By Mary MacVean 

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