Local Residents Work to Transform their Community

The sun hid behind the clouds early in the morning, but everyone was alert with their drills, buckets, or shovels in hand. Eager children as young as four hurried back and forth like ants carrying buckets of soil. Committed parents and friends shoveled heavy soil or helped assemble thick wooden planks together. Later, children and adults cradled seeds and small plants in their palms while carefully choosing the best locations for their future crops. Indeed, on Saturday June 7th, 2014 forty community members and Esperanza Community Housing Corporation gathered to finish their community garden project. Among the forty people present there was a sense of collective responsibility and unity. The day transformed from a cloudy morning to a bright, sunny day and the hours seemed to slip by- most of the community members arrived at the park by nine in the morning and worked until two in the afternoon.


Children at Richardson Park
Courtesy of Sandy Navarro and Angelica Romero

Collective gardens create opportunities for individuals to network and share experiences, create a sense of community, and build community leaders. Especially in South Los Angeles, where access to fresh fruits, vegetables, and herbs are scarce, the opportunities that gardens offer are invaluable. Recognizing their significance, Esperanza invested in their second community garden project to further promote the idea of eating responsibility and help establish a sustainable food system that serves their respective communities regardless of socioeconomic status, race, gender, or any other background.

The community gleamed with the satisfaction of creating a garden for themselves. Their dedication was not only present that day; the adults and families already demonstrated their dedication by attending weekly meetings where they learned basic gardening skills. Looking around the finished product, Ruth Andrade, an active community member and the Richardson Park organizer shared, “It’s important that our children know how to plant, grow, and maintain seeds. They are tired and realizing how difficult this is, so I think they will want to invest and take care of the garden. (“Es importante para que nuestros hijos sepan cómo plantar semillas, como crecenlos, y cómo cuidarlos. Se estan cansando y saben lo difícil que es, entonces pienso que ellos van a tener esas metas para cuidar el jardín.”).” The garden at Richardson Park is yet another reason for neighborhood children to come to play, as well as a place for individuals and families alike to come together and grow fresh fruit and vegetables.


Courtesy of Sandy Navarro and Angelica Romero

Esperanza’s Gardening Projects, Semillas de Esperanza (Seeds of Hope), is led by Coordinator Sandy Navarro.The project is an initiative to improve community health by educating community members on how to live a healthy lifestyle, and by providing access to fresh fruits and vegetables by means of planting edible gardens in South Los Angeles. Over the past few months, Sandy has worked to engage community residents in creating their gardens and connecting them with the necessary resources to ensure project sustainability. The first garden was at the Villa Esperanza (Villa), and Richardson Park is Semillas de Esperanza’s second site.

For more information on how you can get involved in our Semillas de Esperanza Project, please contact our Project coordinator:

Sandy Navarro, Gardening Project Coordinator Email: Sandy@esperanzacommunityhousing,org.

You can also support the garden project by making a donation of plants, trees and gardening supplies or funding to sustain our gardens here: donations welcome.

Melissa and the Monarchs

Melissa is a 7-year-old, entomologist. While the other children are throwing pots on the wheel, making clay figures or building bird houses, Melissa is puttering about in the Dianthus searching for slugs. She is culling the ground for beetle larva, or searching for aphids and lady bugs. She usually has a few slugs on her chest and an inchworm or caterpillar in hand. She has learned to identify metallic wood-boring beetle larva, cut worm larva (which usually turn into moths) and slug eggs.

 Most of us remember from science class (if I may be so bold as to be a spokesperson for the human race) that Arthropods; insects, Crustaceans and Arachnids have exo (exteriors) skeletons.

And that humans and other mammals, birds, fish and things that go bump in the night have endo (inside) skeletons.  Actually many things that go bump in the night have exoskeletons too.

 Inside we contain a hard, erect sculpture of bone, wrapped neatly in tissues, muscles, flesh and fat. If, like arthropods we had soft insides and hard outsides, there would be no weight watchers or Jenny Craig. Liposuction and lap bands would never have been invented.

Arthropods are limited by their external skeleton. It’s like wearing a corset 24 hours a day. If they can’t control their appetites, they must take extreme measures; usually involving something dramatic like splitting their backs open or turning into liquid and reforming.

We of the soft outsides can grow and grow until we can’t leave the house.

We think of caterpillars as soft squishy things that transform into chrysalis (or   pupae) and emerge as butterflies. But this is not really true. Caterpillars are arthropods too. They may appear soft and squishy, but even they are encased in a hard(ish) shell. If you don’t believe me just squash one!

When caterpillars emerge from eggs they are small, very, very small, about 1/8” ( 2-6 mm) long. Before they can become a chrysalis they must grow between 30-50 times their original size.

 They eat and eat and eat and eat, like Orson Wells on a bender. But unlike Orson their flesh cannot expand indefinitely. Eventually their outside gets hard and tight. They’re not comfortable in their own skin.

They spit some silk from their lower lip (if caterpillars have lips) and attach it to a branch. They appear still, but inside they’re wriggling. About 24 hours later, they have managed to scrunch down inside their skin and their head pops off! Or so it seems, but actually it’s only the shell of their head. Caterpillars don’t like living in their heads, so out they crawl, to eat and eat some more.

First they eat their old skin, then they move onto milkweed (Asclepias). Milkweed is slightly toxic and gives them a nasty taste. A bird who snacks on a caterpillar will not try that snack again!

Before they are ready to begin the grand metamorphosis into butterflies monarchs caterpillars must molt five times. Each of these stages is called an instar.

 Inside the chrysalis, the caterpillar has dissolved into goo and its body is reformed, becoming a butterfly. This process takes 10 – 14 days.  The cooler it is, the longer it takes.

When the adult is ready to emerge, the chrysalis fades from green and gold to black and transparent, through the chrysalis you can see the pattern of wings.

 The chrysalis splits open and the butterfly wriggles out. Out drips a blood-like substance. It is meconium, liquid waste mixed with extra pigment, yum.

 Its delicate wings are crinkled and wet. The butterfly hangs upside-down and pumps blood into its wings, inflating them. It waits several hours for its wings to dry before flying.

Females begin laying eggs immediately after their first mating.

 Adults that emerge in the summer live for two to five weeks.

But when the weather begins to turn cold, butterflies, like birds and retired folk go south.

 The last generation of monarchs to hatch at summer’s end flies to central Mexico or California. (Depending on their milkweed accounts.)

This is the Methuselah generation– which can survive for 9 months— outliving the combined lifespan of their parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, and great-great-grandparents. It is this generation of butterflies that migrates from Canada and the United States to either Mexico (if they are east of the Rocky Mountains) or to the Southern California coast (if they are west of the Rocky Mountains.) This last generation of summer enters a non-reproductive phase known as diapause.  This generation winters in the sun and generally does not reproduce until it leaves the winter site sometime in February or March.

No single individual makes the entire round trip. Female monarchs deposit eggs for the next generation during these migrations. The first generation may reach as far north as Texas and Oklahoma during the spring migration. It is the second, third and fourth generations that return to their northern locations in the United States and Canada in the spring.

Using a genetic GPS based in their antennae the monarchs are able to determine the angle of the sun and head due south. Thus they travel a journey that neither they, nor their parents, grand parents, great-grandparents or great-great-grandparents have ever made before.

Monarch butterflies are one of the few insects capable of making trans-Atlantic crossings and they don’t have to pay for any extra baggage.

Pink “Flower of the Gods” harbors kinky slugs.

 Dianthus “Flower of the Gods” harbors kinky slugs.    More weird sexual antics from our slimy brethren and sisteren
Went slug hunting today… mild mannered student Carmen turns into a massacre minded murderer. The kids collected the slugs and experimented with cutting them in ½ (the head section lives for between one-two minuets) letting them burn on the pavement, and grinding them underfoot.
I used the opportunity to teach about simultaneous hermaphrodites. (Each slug is both male and female.) Although slugs are hermaphroditic, they mate with themselves only if no other slugs are around. Given a choice, they seek partners with whom to trade genetic material. More fun than baseball cards!
The exchange of sperm is preceded by elaborate courtship rituals, which are species specific. This prevents interspecies breeding; it’s bad enough that they are hermaphrodites with making them cross breeds too!
  Great grey garden slugs,  copulate in midair, suspended by stretchy strands of mucus up to 17 3/4 inches long. For a fabulous video see the always marvelous David Attenborough on the leopard slug. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CKPBCXdR6yo   
The scientific name of one banana slug species: dolichophallus — Latin for “long penis.”
Too bad the market for slug porn is soft…and slimy.
After mating  the slugs must disengage — a challenge for two animals so amply endowed and covered in sticky mucus. After long bouts of writhing and pulling, the pair may resort to … apophallation…. this means that one slug gnaws off the member of the other.
The apophallated slug,  becomes 100% female. And so the list of what separates humans from other animals keeps shrinking…. now it turns out we didn’t even invent sex change operations
The slugs reside neath the Dianthus. The name Dianthus is from the Greek words dios (“god”) and anthos (“flower”). Dianthus is a genus which includes carnations (D. caryophyllus), sweet williams (D. barbatus) and pinks (D. plumarius and related species.)
In the 14th century,the word pink meant “to decorate with a perforated or punched pattern” (maybe from German “pinken” = to peck). (As in pinking shears:) Pinks Dianthus plumarius  was named “pink”because it has a ruffled edge.  And… it happens to be pink. So that is how the color pink got it’s name.

Promotoras de Salud learning about Arts and the Environment

Through the Arts and Ecological Science Program, Esperanza Community Housing Corporation provides our neighborhood children and youth with opportunities to learn new ways of expressing their creativity, explore their own and other cultures, experience the artistic and cultural richness of Los Angeles, and grow gardens in our community. 

Evie, director of the Arts and Science Program and the class of 2010.

The Mystery of the Pumpkin in the Garden

I just got 12 new kids in the program, 3 of whom I have wanted for a long time. They live in Alegria. They have been watching me for years, with shy, wistful eyes. Their father is an alcoholic who beats them and their mother, who in turn beats them. Now they are in my class and happy children for at least a small time. They confess to me that they found a rotting pumpkin and secretly carried it to the garden to see if it would grow. We wondered where that pumpkin had come from! Now it is sprouting everywhere. The redemptive power of gardens, art and growth, that’s what I should be thinking of.

 Today I was planting in the gardens with my kids. The kids are so excited to see their pumpkins growing!

Jesus (names have been mostly changed to protect the guilty) and I were weeding and watering and disturbed an ant’s nest. We watched as the ants began rescuing their milky, clear eggs from a watery grave. I described the life of the ant. How ants milk aphids, (sometimes called ant cows) how they grow mushrooms underground and how they live as a society, queen, workers, nursemaids and soldiers.

Jesus’s eyes grew wide, “Weird.”

 Sometimes the trust and belief in a child’s eyes makes my breath catch. We looked for aphids and I repeated the oft told tale of these parthenogenetic insects. Female that reproduce females, that reproduce females. Then at summer’s end some grow wings and morph into males.

 “Weird.” We went looking for aphids. We discovered small flies of unknown species and a lady bug larva. Lady bug larval bear no resemblance to lady bugs. They look rather like a black and orange creepy, rubber Halloween bugs.

These kids love to plant and even like weeding!

I wanted to pull up some of the very, very, very large deep rooted grain plants that had grown from bird seed. They are OK, but now our garden is crowded with sprouting corn, pumpkins, squash and myriad wildflowers.

Jesus got into it. (I had heard that either he or his older brother had an “anger problem.” Well who could blame them?) At any rate he beat the chlorophyll out of that plant! He was an inspiration to a small army of children who took to the grains with a single minded ferocity. He and his older sister Azalea set upon the weeds with a fierce cry of “Team work!” They were so enthusiastic I set them lose on the uncleared parkways, dry and woven with crab grass. “Team work!”

There was a party at the apartment across the way. “Miss Elizabeth!” I recognized a father from Villa Esperanza where I had taught years before, but I did not recognize Daisy. She had been an adorable 5 year old. Now she was a delicate, long 19. She was starting Junior College with plans to transfer to Northridge.

They gave us large plates of food, cake and some muti-colored jello dish that would have been the envy of Salt Lake City. (Mormons are very fond of jello.)

It was about 8:40, time to go home. But where were my car keys? They had been hooked onto my belt loop…. The entire neighborhood turned out with key ring lights, flashlights that you had to turn just so and shake gently while humming a soothing “please light up.” House lamps on super, super double plus long connections of extension cords snaked in patterns of black and white down the street and into houses, nesting in outlets and flooding the parkway.

I finally called AAA and told them to come rescue me. I’d need a new key. It was going to cost a lot.

“What will you do Miss?” Jesus asked.

“Well, I’ll get the key. I have to” I said, but it’s very expensive.”

 “Don’t they pay you to teach art Miss?”

 “Well yes, but …”

“You could make some stuff and sell it…. We’ll help you.” The love was palpable.

Finally on a final hopeless 3rd time ‘round the basement search I saw the key, floating on a shallow sea of garbage. Earlier in the day I had wrestled a mattress into the garbage can. The key must have been knocked in. We all cheered and every one got a chocolate marshmallow bunny. Tomorrow we Easter egg hunt!

“I can’t pick up the eggs.” said Genesis. She is a smart, funny spunky child without legs and only one thumb. “You and mom can be my egg retrieval team, pick up the eggs, when I call them.”

“I’ll help!” chimed in Madelia, a dirty, wild 5 year old.

 Very sweet, although I doubt that Genesis will get to eat many from that collection. Those eggs don’t have a chance!

Pumpkins in the Garden

kids defination of hippies “they like peace and have lava lamps”
– Hide quoted text –

On Thu, Apr 1, 2010 at 12:22 PM, Evie King eviekng@gmail.com> wrote:

I just got 12 new kids in the program, 3 of whom I have wanted for a long time.
They live in Alegria. They have been watching me for years, with shy, wistful eyes.
Their father is an alcoholic who beats them and their mother, who in turn beats them.
Now they are in my class and happy children for at least a small time.
They confess to me that they found a rotting pumpkin and secretly carried it to the garden to see if it would grow. We wondered where that pumpkin had come from!
Now it is sprouting everywhere.
The redemptive power of gardens, art and growth, that’s what I should be thinking of.

of sex and snails continuing tales of Esperanza

 She came to our class with a microphone…three microphones actually.

Francesca is a Journalism graduate student at the Annenberg School of communication.

Maybe she will go report in Hong Kong next year. Maybe I can carry her bags?

She had heard and read about the arts and gardens program.

She loved our blogs, and when she met the kids, she fell in love with them. It would take a hard heart not to. Cute, charming, intelligent, inquisitive (sometimes a bit TOO inquisitive) open, innocent and fresh (like flowers, not sassy although sometimes…) what’s not to like?

She interviewed the kids’ one by one outside in the garden.

When I peered out the window, I saw that they had spread out into a chorus line and were performing an improvised number just for her (and the camera.)

The kids were drawn to the camera like oleander aphids to milkweed and like ladybugs to aphids. It appears that most of them are frustrated screen writers.

 She wants to do two programs on us!

One on the arts and one on the gardens!

Later in class, she interviewed me. She wired me up with a smaller mike.

How come I didn’t get to talk into that one?” Casey demanded

“Because you’re not a teacher,” I said

 I waxed eloquent on the need for art. The need for greenery and gardens. The need to learn about other species, to respect all life.

“You were Good Miss,” Said Letty (They often call me Miss.)

 I do believe that the problem is not racism but specism. If we can be cruel to other, more helpless creatures, how can we love our sisters and brothers and ourselves?

“ The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” Gandhi

After all, Not only do humans share 99% of DNA with each other, we share 98% with chimpanzees and at least 50% with plants! (Some people I know share a lot more.)

Actually, this is a number we need to be careful with.

There is only one type of DNA!  ALL animals and plants share the same DNA (a code of only 4 ‘letters’ for amino acids from which all proteins are made.) It is not surprising that all animals and plants have the majority of their  genes in common. On the other hand, some genes are very significant. After all, only one gene is responsible for sex. However, this gene acts as a switch and directs other genes to produce the huge range of differences.

Although the DNA of any two people on Earth is, in fact, 99.9% identical, even a tiny difference can have a big effect if this difference is located in a critical gene.

 Still, all have a place in this wondrous web we call the world.

I believe in the need to learn about other species and to respect life, even life that often goes out of its way not to be respected, like snails.

 We (as in we humans, specifically French humans) brought over our pesky garden snail (Helix aspersa.) It was actually imported for munchies (escargot.) And like most imports, it fled and thrived in a land not designed for it. No predators stopped its migration, unless you want to count the French and a few ducks.

Snails have REALLY interesting sex lives, (after all they are French) as well as being simultaneous hermaphrodites (both male and female at the same) and engage in mutual copulation.

 Mating begins with a courting ritual. Garden snails court anywhere from 15 minutes to six hours, circling each other, touching with tentacles, and biting on the lip and genitals.

Then each snail snails fires a dart (made of calcium) into the genital area of their partner (which happens to be just behind the head on the right side).

(Love darts are strangely common: 17 of the 65 families of terrestrial snails use them.)

We aren’t certain why, but it may be that the dart causes contractions in the female part of the reproductive organs, helping the sperm find its way into a sperm storage chamber.

When it comes to mating, snails could easily star in “Big Love.” They copulate frequently with many partners and can store sperm for up to two years.

And now, for a good word for the evolutionary benefits of switch-hitting.

Snails, who don’t exactly travel fast and have no access (that we know of) to internet dating, might never meet a mate. So it helps to be able to you mate with any adult of your species you come across, not just half of them.

The ultimate ability (one that some hermaphrodites actually have) is to fertilize yourself. It seems like some superhero/heroine ability. Super man indeed, how about Super Snail!

Incidentally, snails evolved more than 600 million years ago. They live anywhere from 15-25 years. Snails are Mollusks. (Mollusks can be very different! From clams to octopus but they all:

  •  Lack skeletons and have soft bodies.
  • Some, but not all are covered by hard shells.
  • Bodies are divided into three parts: head, foot, and mantle.

 Notes from Art Class

Our Melon… with clay snowflakes

Brandon made an innovative 3 story bird a frame.

“I never thought I’d make something like this,” he told me excitedly. “I never could have believed it. I kept thinking ‘I’m done,’ and then another idea would come to me!”  

Kids spent last night making xmas hangings and bird houses.

In our Garden…our wildflower seeds are emerging. White/ green poppy leaves, dark ear-like fox gloves (digitalis, the same digitalis from which the heart medicine is made) and the tiny hands of the Lupine.  The lupine’s roots, like other legumes (beans, peas, lentils, etc.) have nodes with colonies of nitrogen fixing bacteria, Rhizobium that takes nitrogen from the air and “fixes it into the soil.

Lupine gets its name from the Latin word for wolf – lupus. (You Harry Potter Fans ought to know that one.)

 Due to its nitrogen, fixing qualities lupine can survive in poor soil.  Seeing lupine growing, even thriving in poor soil, it was thought that lupines robbed or “wolfed up” all the minerals from the soil. We now know that the opposite is true. . Lupine actually deposits nitrogen into the soil , enriching the earth so that other plants can grow!

Lupine has made it to the far, shores of New Zealand, where like Monsieur/ Madame Helix aspersa in California it is a pest.

It grows lush and lovely there. The most vigorous, healthy lupine I have ever seen! It spreads out, claiming riverbanks, leaving no room for native birds to nest.

Last winter (their summer) when I was there, volunteer groups along the river were pulling up lupine. As they pulled, the birds sat and waited impatiently, with twigs in their beaks, for the clearing of the banks.


Create Now has generously donated Nutcracker tickets.

 “I always watch the Nutcracker movie every December on TV.

This will be my first time seeing nutcracker so I am excited.” – Arizbe Garcia.

Thanks, Create Now for making opportunities like this possible!

I remember dancing every year!

The Garden across the way…or continuing tales from Esperanza

So there it was.  Right across the street.  A dry strip of land just calling to us.  like our patch of soil, between sidewalk and street, but without weeds, onlydirt. 

 “Should we start a new garden?” I asked. “YES!” the children cried in chorus.  “Do you think we need to ask?” “No,” everyone agreed. “We never see anyone over there.”  There is a dog behind the gate.  He carries in his mouth a dish.  The kids say he is hungry and thirsty and want to give him water and food.  We take a plastic bowl from the art class; fill it with water, gingerly pushing it beneath the fence.  The dog laps at it a bit, but I suspect his real joy lies in having something new to carry about in his mouth.  Casey runs home for a sausage.  The dog eats it hungrily, but then any dog would.  We plant our new garden with cuttings from the old.  Succulents, which are filled with water, make good cuttings, as do mints.  All mints have square stems.  “Sedges have edges; rushes are round; grasses are hollow right up from the ground”.

The next day I arrive with seeds, humming bird and butterfly flower mixes as well as pumpkin and watermelons.  It’s really too late i the season, but hey, it’s LA.  We have no seasons here.  And then the rains begin…Not for long but for long enough.  The residents smile as they walk by.  They enjoy the plants and children.  “Butterfly seeds,” I say, “We will have many lovely flowers.

Our Sunflowers grow huge.  The sunflower belongs to the “composite family.”  This means that every flower contains two kinds of flowers “Ray flowers” (The petals) and “disk flowers” (Inside).

Composites have miniaturized and simplified each flower, then packed them together, so that the many flowers look like one. 

In other words, the sunflower (any composite) is actually a bouquet of hundreds of flowers!

(I am large, I contain multitudes.)

A child said What is the grass?  fetching it to me with full hands; How could I answer the child?  I do not know what it is any more than he.

I guess…it is the handkerchief of the Lord,…

Or I guess the grass is itself a child…Sprouting alike in broad zones and narrow zones, Growing among black folks as among white, …And now it seems to me the beautiful uncut hair of graves.

I believe a leaf of grass is no less than the journey work of the stars

–Walt Whitman