Del Aire residents got to enjoy the fruits of their labor Saturday with the unveiling of the state’s first public orchard.
Residents of this quiet, unincorporated slice of Los Angeles County had helped plant 27 fruit trees and eight grapevines in Del Aire Park and 60 additional fruit trees in the surrounding neighborhood. It was part of a larger renovation that included face lifts for a community center, basketball court and baseball field, all nestled in a green space just southwest of the juncture of the 105 and 405 freeways.
“Community gardens and farmers markets are truly the town centers of our communities,” County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas told the crowd of about 200 at the event. “These are the places where people gather and get to know each other.”
The county paid $4 million for the improvements — and used a little creative financing. The fruit trees were paid for from funds designated for civic art. The purpose was to blend food and aesthetics into “edible art,” Ridley-Thomas said.
A group of three artists, known as Fallen Fruit, helped design the orchard. “Art can be something more than something tangible,” said David Burns, one of the artists. “It can actually be an idea. They really understood and embraced the fact that this art project was about the idea of share. This is about creating something that is abundant that has no ownership.”
Another of the artists, Austin Young, said Boston, New York and Madrid are among the cities experimenting with edible landscaping. But in agriculture-rich California, Del Aire is the first place to follow suit, said Karly Katona, deputy to Ridley-Thomas. The idea is to create an edible landscape that will give the residents ownership and a stake in their park, she said.
Before its makeover, the park was something of a paradox. On weekends it bustled with families and children, but many came from other communities. They considered Del Aire Park a haven from the poorly maintained parks that had become gang hangouts in their neighborhoods.
By comparison, many Del Aire residents regarded the park as run-down. They often complained that the baseball diamond looked like a swamp from constant flooding, said John Koppelman, president of the neighborhood association.
So last summer, as the renovations took shape, Ridley-Thomas’ office held events at the park to entice locals to enjoy the public space right in their backyard. Those included a “fruit jam” where residents were encouraged to bring food items that could go into a jam everybody shared. Residents also came to plant the trees, which include plums, pomegranates, limes, avocados and apricots.
Saturday morning, under a brilliant sun, the saplings were taking root in the freshly turned earth, wood stakes holding up the thin, bare trunks. The first edible fruit won’t be ready to harvest for three years.
For now, a wooden sign overlooking the trees describes their purpose: “The fruit trees in this park belong to the public,” it says. “They’re for everyone, including you. Please take care of the fruit trees and when the fruit is ripe, taste it and share it with others.”
After the dedication, Al Luna of Del Aire watched his two young daughters as they played on the jungle gym. The 42-year-old father said he loves having fruit trees across from his home.
“This is something we have never seen here,” he said. “I know the public parks are very against having fruit trees in the parks, but I think this is a good idea. It will bring more people around and at least get free fruit out of it.”