Celebrate Gardening: From the Ground Up!
By Jennifer “Emiko” Kuida
Rafu Column for May 22, 2002

In the last few years, I’ve become a backyard gardener. It ties me to my Japanese American family roots, my community activities, creates a better environment, and even is part of my work. I’m really lucky that my weekend gardening hobby crosses over to so many aspects of my life.

When I’m gardening, I connect with my Issei grandma who passed away nine years ago. I remember walking through Grandma Kuida’s garden as a child. She had ten or twelve rows of different vegetables growing, and lots of old rusty cans and tools. As she got older, her backyard garden near Crenshaw and Jefferson got smaller and smaller, but I still remember lots of tomatoes, Japanese cucumbers, zucchinis, and lemons going home with us each time we visited.

Two years ago, my husband Tony Osumi and I went to Detroit, and got a chance to garden with young people from an organization called Detroit Summer. The youth in Detroit see gardening as a way of beautifying the city and building community. They take over empty lots and turn them into vegetable gardens. One former crack house was taken over and turned into a hay house where bales of city-grown alfalfa were stored. I turned soil and planted seedlings with Roxana, Kibibi, and Yamini—three young women who are dedicated to “rebuilding and re-spiriting” Detroit.

I also enjoy experimenting with organic gardening methods, and trying new things. Last Fall, before I put my garden to sleep for the winter, I buried grass clippings, some kitchen scraps and shredded newspapers in my little 4 X 8 foot garden spot. In March, I was thrilled to find that the ground in my garden had transformed into the “brown gold” the gardening books are always talking about. It’s a small step, but I’m doing what I can to not add poisonous chemicals to the environment.

At Great Leap, the multicultural performing arts organization where I work, we have planted a garden in Watts, as part of our “To All Relations: From the Ground Up” residency project. In November, Great Leap began a six-month residency at the Watts Labor Community Action Committee (WLCAC).

In February, we started weekly workshops at WLCAC led by Great Leap artists Alison De La Cruz, Young Ae Park, Nobuko Miyamoto and Gene Cooke. Story gathering workshops and garden sessions with youth were designed to explore personal stories and to discover individual perceptions about what is vital to life.

During the past few months, WLCAC youth have witnessed the natural growth of plants in the community garden. Under their care, the organic garden has flourished, yielding Swiss chard, collard greens, tomatoes, green beans and corn. Seeing the garden in Watts reminds me of my grandma, my friends in Detroit, and my own backyard.

On Saturday, June 1, we will culminate this project with a Community Garden Celebration featuring live music, theatrical performances, creative offerings by local youth, and health and wellness lecture/demonstrations at noon at the WLCAC.

Our celebration will begin with a garden blessing and dedication, followed by theatrical performances and live music. Great Leap artists Alison De La Cruz, Gina Fields, and Monica Sahagun will perform “A Slice of Rice, Frijoles and Greens,” a humorous and poignant mix of stories that give vivid insights into the Asian, Latino and African American experience.

Singer Nobuko Miyamoto, percussionist/taiko drummer Danny Yamamoto of Hiroshima, and bassist Nedra Wheeler, will join together to create live music in celebration of the community garden.

We will also focus on health and wellness. My yoga teacher, Krishna Khalsa Kaur, Director of Yoga for Youth, will present a Kundalini yoga demonstration. Adonijah Miyamura El, a food forestry practitioner, will give a talk about his work at Crenshaw High School, creating sustainable environments and community gardens.

One of the best things about growing your own food is the sense of accomplishment it brings. The extra time and effort it takes is worth it. Biting into a juicy homegrown tomato is an incredible taste sensation. Sharing organic zucchinis with friends and relatives makes me feel connected. The Community Garden Celebration in Watts won’t be any different.

Spend next Saturday, June 1 away from processed food, fluorescent mall lighting and mainstream Hollywood movies. Share a few hours experiencing a real Los Angeles. We’ll be serving vegan foods, including, “rice, frijoles and greens.” Come see what Great Leap has been growing in Watts.

This project is supported in part by California Arts Council, Los Angeles County Arts Commission, Los Angeles Cultural Affairs Department, Sony Pictures Entertainment, Los Angeles Times, Ralph’s/Food4Less Foundation, Aaroe Associates Charitable Foundation, Hitachi, Ltd., FIA Insurance Company, and Friends of Great Leap. Great Leap is a participant in the New Generations Program, funded by Doris Duke Charitable Foundation/The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and administered by Theatre Communications Group, the national organization for the American Theatre.

Jennifer “Emiko” Kuida is the Managing Director of Great Leap. To RSVP, call (213) 250-8800 or see Great Leap’s website www.greatleap.org. WLCAC, 10950 S. Central Avenue, Los Angeles, between Century and Imperial. Free admission and secure parking is available. ©2002.

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