My headline was intended to be something of an eye-catcher—who can resist a story about crime and scurvy, right?
Best of all, my claim is true. The thinking goes something like this:
- Scurvy, the clinical manifestation of vitamin C deficiency, is on the rise in developed nations. In the United Kingdom, for example, reported cases of childhood scurvy rose 57% between 2005–2008.
- Public health studies indicate that poverty is driving the re-emergence of the disease.
- Access to free, fresh, vitamin-c rich foods will reduce incidents of scurvy.
Ergo: planting fruit trees and vegetables in public spaces will reduce scurvy.
And what about crime, I hear you ask? Well, since 2008, a project in Todmorden, UK, has been growing fruits and vegetables in seventy public beds dotted around the town.
The produce is free to whoever chooses to pick it, and, as Incredible Edible co-founder Pam Warhurst explains: “The police have told us that, year on year, there has been a reduction in vandalism since we started.” She continues: “If you take a grass verge that was used as a litter bin and a dog toilet and turn it into a place full of herbs and fruit trees, people won’t vandalise it.”
Ergo: planting fruit trees and vegetables in public spaces reduces crime.
Not exactly quod et demonstrandum perhaps, but an equation well worth exploring in Los Angeles, my home, a city in which:
- 20.2% of people live below the poverty level
- The American Diabetes Association has just set up permanent shop in downtown to address the “growing concern and epidemic in Los Angeles”
- Full-service supermarkets make up less than 2% of the total number of food stores in the South and Central parts of the city
It’s an equation that artists have been making for a while now: initially via guerilla activity, more recently with some venturesome civic support.
Take Ron Finley, for example. In 2010 the artist and designer planted the strip of scrubby grass in front of his South Central home. His fruits and vegetables flourished, neighbors and passersby ate well, and the city Bureau of Street Services served Ron with a citation.
To cut short a longish story—which is chronicled by Steve Lopez in the Los Angeles Times and by Mr. Finley at his recent TED talk—with the help of L.A. Green Grounds, City Councilmember Herb Wesson’s office, and the South LA community, Ron’s garden continues to grow, and he continues to fight the good fight for public produce.
More recently, the L.A. County Arts Commission dedicated the Del Aire Fruit Park, an artwork in the form of an urban orchard, by collective Fallen Fruit. Described as the first public fruit park in California, it is the located in public land, and “will be sustained, nurtured and harvested by the public.”
Are we getting closer to the realization of Ron’s vision, as described by Steve Lopez, in which “one street would grow peaches, the next would grow peppers or tomatoes, and everybody would meet at the corner to share the harvest”?
Are Fallen Fruit of Del Aire and Ron’s garden the thin end of the wedge? My hope is that these glimmers of civic support for public produce can herald a policy shift in L.A. and modification of the “public nuisance” ordinance.
Because I have only 900-words maximum with which to make the case for public produce, suffice to say that I’ve written lots more about that particular inhibitor at KCET.org. Meanwhile, in addition to its potentially huge impacts on public health and crime statistics, to say nothing of the environmental benefits a local harvest reaps, let me leave you with a final thought about Todmorden from visiting journalist Vince Graff:
“The day I visit, the town is battered by a bitterly-cold rain storm. Yet the place radiates warmth. People speak to each other in the street, wave as neighbours drive past, smile. If the phrase hadn’t been hijacked, the words ‘we’re all in this together’ would spring to mind.”