Meet David De La Torre and the Jardin del Rio Community Garden
Tucked between two modest homes, and not 500 feet from the LA River, sits Jardin del Rio Community Garden, a serene oasis of greenery and community. With its 28 plots, Jardin del Rio is a refuge for many older local residents, and a crucial source of food for families and children. But before it was a treasure, this small parcel of city-owned land was a blight on the neighborhood.
In the 60’s and 70’s, the lot had been a popular playground, but slowly devolved into a magnet for illegal dumping, drug dealing and gang activity. “The playground equipment moved out, and a bad element moved in,” says garden founder David De La Torre. Neighbors were scared and desperate for action, and as a longtime resident, David took it upon himself to make a change. “A representative from our council office said that if I could organize the neighbors, she’d help me get permission to turn it into a garden.”
The neighborhood had been made promises before and the prospect of a community garden just for them was met with some skepticism — but what followed was a textbook case of community organizing. David walked the neighborhood, held regular meetings, and slowly, began changing minds. For one thing, he was achieving results. David and his recruits raised thousands of dollars through private donations, put up a fence for security, and kept the property clean and safe. “We made a commitment to each other to keep it clean, and we had a weekly meeting to do that.” From there, everything just fell into place. “The project began unfolding with ease because people were seeing this transformation.”
The first raised beds went in in 2002. “When the first plot and first seeds were planted, it was fantastic.” The land was renewed, the plants were growing, but it was in the people that he saw the greatest changes. “What happened here was amazing in that the mix of folks were all ages, demographics, and it created a community. Neighbors who hadn’t spoken or didn’t know each other became friends.”
The garden has been operating for well over a decade now, and while the individual gardeners have certainly changed over the years, the commitment they feel to this visionary, transformative neighborhood project has not.
“People change, they get older and have to move on, but then we’ll get an influx of younger gardeners, and the crops change, the culture changes,” David says. “But I don’t see this being lost. Long after I’m gone, I would expect it to be here.”
– Cyndi Hubach