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Vegan for the Holidays

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Vegetarians in Paradise
Title 24 Carrot Award

24 Carrot Award Trophy

In each issue Vegetarians in Paradise presents the 24 Carrot Award to an outstanding person or organization that endeavors to practice or promote education, natural health, wholesome nutrition, and ecology techniques for the mutual benefit of humans, animals, and the earth.

With great pleasure we present this month's 24 Carrot Award to The Common Ground Garden Program, a Los Angeles County based organization whose primary focus is to train volunteers who will reach out and teach others to start and maintain community gardens in low-income areas.

Early in March we attended the annual orientation meeting of the Master Gardener Program held in Monterey Park. We quickly became aware that volunteers in the program have a passion for gardening and a willingness to donate countless hours to share their expertise.

We learned from Yvonne Savio, the Common Ground Garden Program Manager and Gardening Education Coordinator, that the project began 15 years ago at the Los Angeles County office of the University of California Cooperative Extension. It is one of twelve programs nationwide funded by the USDA to help low-income residents become more self-sufficient by teaching them to grow their own vegetables. The program now boasts 350 volunteer garden devotees who participate in many capacities.

In the Master Gardener Program, which Yvonne restarted five years ago, volunteers commit to a four-month training period by participating all day every Friday. When the training is completed, each volunteer is able to provide information to help community gardeners maximize their garden efforts. Many of these residents have never had a garden before. For the first time they experience the joy of planting a seed, nurturing its growth, and reaping an edible harvest. Sharing those joys is what brings rewards to the many Master Gardener volunteers.

Birds Holding Award The Master Food Preserver Program, headed by Sue Giordano, is an eight to ten-week course where volunteers learn food safety and how to can, preserve, freeze, dehydrate, and pickle. A recent sausage-making workshop was especially popular. Master Preservers work with Master Gardeners to teach people how to preserve the foods they grow so that nothing goes to waste.

In a newly funded program called Fresh From the Garden, Master Food Preservers and Master Gardeners will provide food and nutrition information to low-income families at community gardens. The program will focus on proper refrigeration and cooking techniques to prepare food tastefully and healthfully, especially using the vegetables and fruits grown by the participants. Workshop presentations will also explore sharing and recipes from different cultures.

Anyone visiting the Hollywood Farmers' Market on Sunday mornings can meet Master Preserver Mary Jane Loper who has been answering food questions and sharing recipes at the Common Ground table for the last five years. Volunteers like Mary Jane do not get paid for the hours given to Common Ground--their "carrot" is the multitude of thank you's they receive and the pleasure derived from helping others.

The Gardening Angels School Garden Program, started in 1990 with ten schools and nurtured by Bonnie Freeman for the last five years, now sends 200 trained volunteers to 150 schools to work with teachers and children in setting up regular gardening programs. In addition, Gardening Angels can initiate children's programs at churches, YMCA sites, or other sites where they receive a commitment of the facility's administrators to maintain the garden program. The Gardening Angel program is so successful there is a waiting list of 90 schools. Loretta Gonzales, who completed the Master Gardener classes just last year, now administers the program, and Bonnie concentrates on outreach presentations.

Gardening Angels delight in interacting with children and introducing them to the joys of gardening. Often when children are asked where vegetables come from, they reply, "The store." Gardening Angels hope to bring awareness and learning to all children in a program that teaches all school subjects through hands-on gardening activities.

The Gardening Angel Program is one of six statewide programs that serve as a model for the "Gardening in Every School by the Year 2000" mandate from Superintendent of Education Delaine Easton. Since California is the nation's number one agricultural producer, the state is recognizing the importance of attracting young people to the agricultural sciences.

In addition to the hands-on, in-the-gardens work done by Master Gardeners, Master Food Preservers, and Gardening Angels, volunteers commit hours to work on committees to keep the program operating. One committee is the Master Gardener Helpline that anyone in the county can call for answers to garden problems. Volunteers from each program answer questions at county fairs, farmers markets and local events.

At many of the community gardens Master Gardeners present seasonal workshops like Spring-Summer Gardening Techniques and Tips, Composting, and Growing Tomatoes and Herbs. Some of them like Terry Wohlgemuth take on individual projects. Terry, who became a Master Gardener last year, presents a propagation workshop one Saturday a month at the Carmelitos Housing Development Community Garden in Long Beach. In addition, she works with a Boys and Girls Club of sixth, seventh and eighth graders who look forward to their weekly afternoon of planting, cultivating, watering and harvesting in their very own plots that were once in a neglected, overgrown area.

Common Ground volunteers all agree that each project begins with hard work and perseverance such as the Echo Park Community Garden that was once an abandoned building on a weed-infested lot. The building had become a neighborhood disgrace and a haven for drug dealers and prostitutes. After much negotiating, the landlord tore the building down and donated the property for $1 a year for five years. In a one-day effort L.A. Works and Master Gardeners joined to clear debris and began cultivating the soil. Every Sunday Master Gardeners and community volunteers came to work, creating a garden that is now an attractive community enterprise regularly tended with love.

We asked Yvonne Savio what personal rewards she has gained from her work with Common Ground. She quickly replied, "Being able to tie people in to their own passion for helping others grow their own food and flowers. Many of the volunteers have said they didn't know how to give back to their communities. We've helped them by providing so many avenues. That way, everyone wins."

Information about Common Ground can be obtained by subscribing to Common Ground Gardener, a newsletter published twice a year for Los Angeles County residents. Subscription is free by calling Gloria Mitchell at 323-838-4540. Each issue contains month by month gardening advice and features program updates, gardening events throughout the Southland, and profiles of some of the volunteers. Yvonne Savio, Program Manager, can be reached at ydsavio@ucdavis.edu

The web site for the L. A. County U.C. Cooperative Extension office can be accessed at http://celosangeles.ucdavis.edu

Common Ground's web site is found at http://celosangeles.ucdavis.edu/Common_Ground_Garden_Program/

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