- Author: Dohee Kim
As we started to think about highlighting another special UC Cooperative Extension volunteer, it was a no-brainer to come up with Florence Nishida's name. In fact, her name flashed in bright, neon lights through our minds.
Nishida sits at the center of the LA gardening world. As a UC Cooperative Extension Master Gardener volunteer, she trained many new gardeners and helped sprout community gardeners throughout the county. One of her first students was artist Ron Finley, who has been celebrated for his inspirational talk on TED.com about urban gardening. With Finley, Nishida went on to co-found "Green Grounds" to install gardens in the underserved neighborhoods in and around South LA one yard at a time.
Born in Boyle Heights and raised in South LA, near USC and the Natural History Museum of LA County, Nishida is a research associate (mycologist) at the museum and is an instructor of edible gardening in the old neighborhood of Exposition Park. This area is locally considered to be a "food desert" due to its limited access to good markets and fresh, healthy food. Wanting to encourage residents to grow their own food, Nishida developed a plan to teach families how to transform a water-wasting lawn into an attractive, productive and edible garden.
"We bring people together to build edible front yard gardens for free. It's a great model for a neighborhood, and it really starts conversations and interactions among people, making the community safer and people more involved with each other," said Nishida.
Since late 2010, Nishida has helped launch 24 gardens. Unfortunately, four of the early ones have dissolved due to various reasons, such as evictions, failing health and dog damage. In order to help sustain the existing gardens, Nishida and her collaborators visit gardens, offer technical assistance and organize work parties. Her hope is that these gardens inspire and encourage others to copy this effort by creating their own edible gardens.
"Florence 'grows' gardeners through her inspiration and knowledge, enabling everyone to not only grow their own vegetables and fruits, but to share them and their new skills with their neighbors," said Yvonne Savio, program manager of the UC Cooperative Extension's Common Ground Garden Program.
For more information about UC Cooperative Extension's gardening and horticulture programs, visit http://celosangeles.ucanr.edu.