Growing vegetables and jobs

There’s a lot of talk about green jobs being the savior for the country’s disturbingly high unemployment and underemployment rates. The city of Los Angeles says it is actively working to create some.

In a Feb. 24 ceremony on the third floor of L.A.'s City Hall 23 people were awarded certificates for completing a green gardener training course that is seen as a template for creating jobs that will protect the environment.

“Since last spring, we’ve been working on this program to train gardeners in managing and maintaining the designs of the 21st century garden in Southern California, which is a garden that uses drought-tolerant plants and that retains and reuses rainwater,” said Paula Daniels, the L.A. Board of Public Works commissioner who helped pioneer the program.

Thirty-one gardeners participated in the pilot training program that began late last year, and 89 are expected to be trained soon through the program, which was funded with $250,000 in federal stimulus money, through the city’s Community Development Department, and conducted in partnership with the Institute of Popular Education of Southern California, an immigrant education group.

The training, which takes 48 hours over six days, educates gardeners in sustainable strategies for making better use of water, such as incorporating drought-tolerant plants, drip irrigation with more advanced controllers, and mulch. The curriculum, developed by the Los Angeles and San Gabriel Rivers Watershed Council, also focuses on soil types, sun patterns, microclimates and how to work with clients to educate them in water-saving gardening practices.

Christopher McKinnon, a board member of the Mar Vista Community Council, offered his home for one of the initial training sessions.

“About 50 class members came to my house and toured my front and backyard, where I’d removed my lawn,” said McKinnon, whose landscape also incorporates rain barrels, composting and drip irrigation. McKinnon said he is hoping to hire some of the recently graduated green gardeners to maintain a property in his neighborhood.

“This program is doing two things,” said Serena Lin, staff attorney at Public Counsel, a public interest law firm, and co-creator of the green gardener training program. “It’s empowering low-income workers to get better jobs because they’re increasing their skill levels and giving them the tool kit to create an environmentally sustainable Los Angeles.”

Lin is also helping the green gardeners to become a sustainable entity themselves. Along with the UCLA Downtown Labor Center and other partner organizations, she has helped the gardeners create a limited liability corporation called Native Green to help broaden the program.