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L.A. youths planting plum trees and more in Urban Fruit Trail project

Donna Summer
Students create a fruit tree trail that will wind its way through the MacArthur Park area
150 trees will be planted, offering the neighborhood plenty more shade and a chance at free snacks year-round

The decision was unanimous: The plum tree needed a name.

"Bob Pastolio!" yelled Maria Flor, a sixth-grader from West Hollywood.

"Yeah," said Max Oppenheimer, 12, of Los Feliz. "For short, we'll call him Bob."

The students spent a recent Wednesday afternoon shoveling and sweating in the sun in order to plant the leafy tree at Lafayette Park — part of a public project to create a fruit tree trail that will wind its way through the MacArthur Park area.

In total, 150 trees will be planted, offering the neighborhood plenty more shade and a chance at free snacks year-round: plums and peaches in the summer, pomegranates and persimmons in the fall, and lemons, limes, oranges and kumquats in the spring and winter.

The project, called L.A.'s First Urban Fruit Trail, is being led by the Heart of Los Angeles, a youth outreach group near MacArthur Park, and Fallen Fruit, a duo of contemporary artists from Silver Lake who use art and fruit trees to encourage the public to walk more, eat more healthfully and save money.

It is being funded though a grant from the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, which supports art projects in the community.

Students in the summer program fanned out across the neighborhood in recent weeks, scouting spots to plant the trees. They chose Lafayette Park, MacArthur Park and several locations outside churches, schools and apartment buildings.

They plan to plant about 70 trees in July. The rest will be given to residents to plant and maintain in public spaces.

To promote the trail, students have gathered each week to work on a series of art projects — collages, paintings, photographs and oral histories.

Those fruit-inspired pieces will be displayed online as part of an interactive map designed to guide people through a walking tour of the fruit tree trail.

"It's like a big public art piece inviting people to enjoy this city, come out and meet your neighbors and eat more fruit," said Austin Young, Fallen Fruit co-founder.

On a recent morning, students ages 10 to 18 gathered at Heart of Los Angeles' art studio to work on their most recent project: their take on Donna Summer's disco classic "MacArthur Park."

The pop music group Fol Chen was on hand to lend instruments and record the students' voices. Using fruit photos and magazine cutouts, the youngsters created an oversized version of the 1978 album cover.

"Who's heard this song before?" asked Fol Chen's Samuel Bing.

"Not me!" everyone yelled out. "Never!"

"It's kinda cheesy," said Maria, whose older sister, Isabel, also is in the program.

"That's OK, because we're going to change it up and make it ours," Bing said.

The project will feature a music video with the reworked song and dancing fruit collage cutouts made by the kids.

Nana Ampofo, a tall, quiet 12-year-old from the MacArthur Park area, was excited to get a chance to sing.

She said she was looking forward to seeing new trees in her neighborhood. Her mom tries to buy organic fruit at farmers markets to keep things healthful for the family. But with four siblings, shopping can get expensive.

"Soon I'll be able to walk around and just pick fruit off the trees for free!" Nana said, adding that she was most excited about her favorite fruit: pomegranates.

Carole Sanchez, 17, has trees in her backyard in Pico-Union: lemons and peaches planted by her father. But she knows most of the people in the area live in crowded apartments with little or no green space.

"We need more trees and less trash," Carole said. "We need to stop destroying nature and start giving back. That's why this is so cool."

esmeralda.bermudez@latimes.com

Twitter: @LATbermudez

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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