Community Garden at Villa-Parke Community Center will Fight Obesity

Pasadena Community Garden Conservancy Boardmember Hilary Clark, President Eileen White Read, and Board Chair Jessica Korzenecki served a healthy meal to the families that participated in the second community work day for the Villa Parke Community Garden.Community Outreach Coordinator Monica Curiel and Master Gardener Jorge Martinez will help interested gardeners from the neighborhood begin growing their daily produce.The two families of Rosario Hampton and Miki Asakura are excited to work side by side once the community garden is completed.Community members painted what they wanted to see grown in the new garden.Community Garden at Villa-Parke Community Center will Fight ObesityCommunity Garden at Villa-Parke Community Center will Fight ObesityCommunity Garden at Villa-Parke Community Center will Fight ObesityThe rooftop of Villa Parke Community Gardens will be the home of 30 raised beds as well as communal beds that will hold produce for the neighborhood.

Article and Photography by RACHEL YOUNG

11:34 am | January 29, 2014

After a community workday on Saturday, the Community Garden at Villa Park Community Center is one step closer to its expected completion in February.

The rooftop community garden will feature 30 raised beds for individual families as well as a ground-floor community garden serving 100 zero to five year-olds and their families attending Head Start classes.

The garden will be the fourth of eight community gardens constructed in underserved communities throughout Los Angeles County through the Little Green Fingers initiative funded by the First 5 LA grant. The initiative seeks to address the obesity epidemic by creating space for parents and children to learn about gardening and nutrition side-by-side.

According to a study recently completed by Dr. Eric Walsh and the Pasadena Public Health Department, 26.7% of adults in Pasadena are obese, 28.7% are overweight, and 20.7% of children are obese. Particularly north of the freeway many food deserts exist where no grocery stores or restaurants offer healthy fruit and vegetable options.

“When you go up North Lake or Fair Oaks you have fast food restaurants one right after another so they’re cheap calories for people who can’t afford wholesome fresh food,” Walsh said.

Hearing that food deserts could exist in Pasadena where she has found an abundance of avid gardeners, Eileen White Read and a board of about 30 decided to take action to bring fruits and vegetables to communities north of the freeway that lack gardening space.

“We are just appalled at what’s going on north of the freeway. It seems like things are getting much worse, more segregated not less, the fact that people’s health north of the freeway is way worse than people’s health south of the freeway. That really galvanized us,” Read said.

The Pasadena Community Garden Center Conservancy was formed by the passion to bring the love of gardening to those communities. The Conservancy will fund $20,000 annually over five years for programming including year-round instruction in gardening, nutrition and healthy cooking classes at the Center, as well as a network of volunteers, a website, and an e-newsletter.

Jorge Martinez is the master gardener who will take on the challenge of experimenting alongside the locals what will work best in their community garden. He will offer regular classes to teach the new gardeners how to ready the soil, use worms, and how to plant with the seasons.

Martinez grew up under gang influence in northwest Pasadena. After his brother passed away his junior year of high school, he made a commitment to one day come back and make Northwest Pasadena a better neighborhood. He completed gardening schooling in the San Fernando Valley and recently came back to Pasadena.

“This is where I belong. This is my home. I want to have it become a better place for all people to live in. I’m really big on having access to locally grown fruits and vegetables, not just the nutrition of eating the food itself, but also the health aspect that comes from tilling the soil, the therapeutic side that happens when you’re there digging in the ground investing your energy into something that will give back to you,” Martinez said.

Many of the families are low-income in the area surrounding the garden, so Martinez hopes to alleviate one stressor of wondering where the next meal will come from. One thing that brings hope to Martinez is to see the liquor store at Navarro and Howard transformed to a garden. He personally knew four people who died on that corner.

“To see a liquor store replaced by a garden to me is a sign that it is time for us transform ourselves. One of the visions I have is for our teams to learn how to grow food and then take it to the neighborhood and see who wants to transform their home into an edible garden or backyard tree orchard,” Martinez said.

Monica Curiel will be the community outreach coordinator who will do her best to get the whole community involved in the garden and wanting to eat more fruits and vegetables on a daily basis. The cooking classes she promotes will take familiar Latina dishes and show the Latino community how to cook with less fat and more greens.

“I think its great for the community to learn through healthy means to grow their own food supply source and having ownership of it. I am hoping to have a plot here. I like the idea of urban gardening and maximizing the use of small spaces,” Lamar Anderson said who lives nearby in an apartment that has limited amount of space for garden pots on his patio.

The gardens will provide a minimum of 6,000 pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables, featuring communal beds planted by a master gardener that will provide accessible snacks to any passerby. Beautifully painted tiles by community members who will use the garden will adorn the area.

Many of those interested families like Hampton from Peru and Miki Asakura from Japan came on Saturday to take part in weather proofing the boards for the raised-garden beds. The two families are excited to plant side-by-side with their children vegetables like kale, spinach and tomatoes.

“In my country beans and corn say on the labels if they are genetically changed so we can choose, but here the only choice is to go to the organic store. Now we will be able to grow our own. That’s what I prefer,” Asakura said.

The grand opening of the Villa-Parke Community Garden will take place on April 26, 2013. Information about PCGC is available at