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Meet Villa Parke Community Garden

The Villa-Parke Community Center in northwest Pasadena was doing great things for its clientele, with playgroups for kids, recreational activities for seniors, and help for people navigating public services. But there was one area where director Rozanne Adanto really saw her folks falling behind: their diets. “It’s a borderline food desert,” she says of the ethnically diverse, low-income neighborhood. “There are markets in the area, but if you don’t have a car, fresh, healthy, affordable food isn’t easy to get access to.”

She’d been hearing about community gardens as a way to get wholesome food to people who aren’t in the Whole Foods crowd, but she didn’t have a lot of land to work with. There was, however, an open second level on the building. “It was basically just a big cement pass-through. And we thought, perfect!”

The LA Conservation Corps built the raised garden beds and First Five LA created a garden curriculum for 0-5 year olds. The Pasadena Community Garden Conservancy is funding the Master Gardener and Nutrition classes while Pasadena’s Health Department has provided nutritionists to conduct the lessons. Master Gardener Dalila Mendez directs the education program with a strong emphasis on both gardening and nutrition. “We started doing what we call ‘pop-up classes,” says Mendez. “If a group of parents is waiting to pick up their kids, I might do a 20-minute talk called ‘Rethink Your Drink,’ about switching from soda to smoothies. People need help knowing what to do with their vegetables once they’ve grown them.”

The center has individual plots for 30 families and common areas that serve dozens of seniors and more than 200 children. And though it’s been open only a little over a year and it’s already changing the way people eat. “They are used to getting a lot of pre-packaged food because it’s cheap and convenient,” says Adanto, “but this gives them the experience of eating fresh from the garden. It changes their experience of food.”

By Cyndi Hubach

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