Planting the seeds to an urban Eden
Is it just another garden? Or is it a transition from an unsustainable, industrial culture to a lush, self-sustainable urban space where spirituality, education, nutrition and the reconnection with Gaia thrive?
Located in the coroner of a parking lot at the A-warehouse, an art and performance venue in South Los Angeles, is a permaculture garden called the Edible Visionary Art Park. It is a project of and headquarters for the Gaian Mind Institute. According to its mission statement, the institute is “committed to growing bioregionally sustainable communities that can survive with or without the global industrial economy.”
With the help of community volunteers and members of the A-warehouse collective, truck loads of mulch, acquired free of charge from the sanitation department, were unloaded onto the asphalt, spread out and sculpted into raised beds. Crops were donated as seeds, or cuttings from friends and local community gardens. Since then, the originally 1,000 square foot garden has doubled in size.
The Edible Visionary Art Park is a sort of crop rescue center, said Ben Lawson, co-founder of the Gaian Mind Institute. Many plants, such as the banana trees, were rescued from a Long Beach community garden facing temporary eviction due to a drainage project. Others were surplus produce destined for the compost bin.
The park and the re-establishing of the Gaian Mind Institute happened when the A-warehouse wanted to install a garden and start integrating projects at the space.
“After being on tour for a month, when I got back I was in transition in my own life and wasn’t sure if I wanted to stay in Los Angeles,” said Lawson. “I was feeling very vulnerable to its inherent unsustainability.”
Lawson is a drummer in the punk band Resistant Culture. He said he had been in LA just a few days after returning from a U.S. tour when somebody at the A-warehouse mentioned how the boat in the parking lot was supposed to be a garden.
“They wanted to start gardening but didn’t know where to start,” he said. “It was very synchronistic that I was in transition. I asked if I could use that corner to start the project again. They had been wanting to do more community outreach and more self-sufficiency type stuff here. It is mainly an art and performance space but part of its mission is to be a creative space for the community and to do projects and programs that serve the community rather than just entertainment, which is one directional.”
“This is definitely a merging of missions,” he adds.
The design of the garden, which is still in its early stages of development, truly lives up to its name. Edible sculptures thrive and objects are turned into planters. Strawberries, nasturtiums, bok choy, peppermint, fennel, fava beans, tomatoes, and sun flowers are just some of the plants that grow in sustainable permaculture fashion. Some are planted in raised beds, some hanging from recycled buckets and some even in an old ukulele.
Keeping with its mission of being sustainable, the waste-flow is little to none. There is no plumbing in the garden, so water is stored in jugs. Water from sprouting, cooking and cleaning with natural soap is collected under the sink. The recycled water is then added to the garden’s worm compost bin and steeps to make compost tea. The tea is then used to spray on the crops as a replacement for chemically-based fertilizers, pesticides and fungicides.
Art created by youth that participated in the weekend gardening program at the Gaian Mind’s previous location decorates the fence. A circular raised bed surrounds the boat that that will soon serve as an aquaponics fish and plant farm.
The Gaian Mind Institute is a non-profit project and is fiscally sponsored by the International Humanities Center and it plans to raise funds and solicit donations for solar panels, batteries, water purification and more.
With the different groups of people and events that cycle through the A-warehouse, Lawson feels this will give many a glimpse into the potential of urban permaculture, survivalism and self sufficiency.
“The ones that see it and want to get involved, can,” he said.
The garden is to serve as a park and is open to volunteers as well as visitors who want to read, meditate, picnic or do whatever they would in a park. Apart from serving as a park and garden, coming February, the grounds will function as a “Free School.” Free Schools, or Freedom Schools, are alternative schools that are organized collectively by its participants and have been popping up in Los Angeles in response to the budget cuts in public education.
The classes will include meditation, yoga, herbalism, permaculture gardening, and women’s self defense. There are also future plans for gardening classes for children in the community. Classes will focus on educating and, in effect, aiding the transition from an urban unsustainable society to an egalitarian earth-based society.
“In the outdoor classroom, people will have the opportunity to teach sacred practices, cultivate that energy and be able to apply that to their lives, bodies and to the crops,” said Lawson. “Participants can develop masterful, inner skill sets that can help them transition in a positive way.”
The name, Edible Visionary Art Park, has been 5 years in development. The “edible art park” was a plan created 5 years ago by by the Gaian Mind Institute and a group of green developers in Long Beach. It aimed to combine art, education, and organic horticulture.
The project is influenced by the visionary art movement, a type of art the incorporates spiritual and other-world type themes. Lawson explains that many of the artists in the movement have recently merged the two worlds of hands-on, edible self-sufficient and sustainable permaculture landscape design and human settlement design with the visionary and mystical aesthetic.
“Different pathways lead to the same sort of invisible landscape of visions that a lot of traditional shamanic cultures have been accessing and sharing with the modern world,” he said. “People involved in the visionary art movement, create art that aims to depict the visions for the future. A lot of people are seeing things like Utopian future cities where people are living harmoniously with each other and the Earth.”
Lawson said people are dropping off crops to be planted and have proposed projects they want do at the garden or warehouse.
“It’s a space for anybody that wants to get there hands dirty with this stuff and get some practical experience, as well as experiment with things and use it as a laboratory for their own passions in this domain,” he said.