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Do You Know Where to Find Healthy Food in South L.A.? RideSouthLA and CSU Take Riders on a Different Kind of Food Tour

"Mama" (center) takes a moment to talk to the cyclists about her partnership with Community Services Unlimited and providing fresh, healthy food to a community where such resources are scarce (photo: sahra)

“They’ve been receiving it pretty decently, I must say,” Karen Whitman, the “Mama” of Mama’s Chicken, told the riders with the Healthy Food tour regarding her customers’ response to the fresh produce she recently began offering at her shop. “The more people that know about it, the more that’s coming in.”

Located at the corner of Slauson and 4th Ave., the market (and the produce she offers with the help of Community Services Unlimited (CSU)) fills a unique niche for neighbors in the area that want healthier options than those found at the “grocery” across the street offering candy, sodas, incense, body oils, and hygiene products.

And, she added, “it makes me really happy to know that they can come here because, a lot of times, they don’t have transportation to even get to some of the stores,” referring to the Ralph’s at Crenshaw, 1/2 a mile away, or the Food-4-Less almost a mile down Slauson at Western. Although those distances may not sound great, for people who struggle to afford transit fees, the elderly or disabled, or those with children in tow, lugging groceries back and forth by bus or along streets where safety is a concern may not be viable options.

Whitman is so happy about offering healthier fare, in fact, she’ll be remodeling the store later this year to feature refrigerated shelves that will allow her to display the organic collard greens, grapes, green beans, mustard greens, carrots, cabbage, and celery right up front to tantalize customers.

The makeover is a long time coming.

A few years ago, the Community Market Conversion Program (CMC) – a now-defunct partnership of the Community Redevelopment Agency – Los Angeles (CRA-LA), The California Endowment, and the County Department of Public Health that funded the conversion of small, locally-owned stores in under-served communities to offer healthier choices — had identified Whitman’s store as ripe for transformation.

The financial and technical support the CMC program would have provided her was vital to the conversion process. Whitman and others in her position are rarely able to scare up the capital and expertise necessary to secure the permits from the Department of Public Health, invest in compliant infrastructure and facilities (refrigeration, drains, etc.), source and maintain produce — something that is not a big money-maker for grocers in the first place — and try out different marketing techniques on their own. It is too risky and the rewards are too few to do it without assistance.

Read more…

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South L.A. Gardening Renegade to Speak at TED 2013 in Long Beach

Local gardening renegade Ron Finley will be one of the speakers at this February’s TED2013, themed “The Young. The Wise. The Undiscovered.

Finley is one of the co-founders of L.A. Green Grounds, an informal organization dedicated to transforming South Los Angeles front yards into edible gardens.

At his inspiring TEDx talk last year in Vancouver, he discussed the origins of his interest in gardening as stemming, in part, from the lack of access to fresh food in South L.A. and encouraged attendees to just go out and “plant some shit.”

He had done just that in late 2010, digging up the 10-by-150 foot parkway (the strip of turf between the sidewalk and the curb) next to his home off Exposition Blvd. and planting tomatoes, peppers, chard, melons, squash, pumpkins, onions, broccoli, eggplant, celery, kale, and herbs.

While the spot quickly became popular among neighbors and people who needed access to fresh healthy food, the city wasn’t so impressed.

Finley hadn’t gotten a permit to do the work ahead of time and was soon issued a citation. The city wanted him to either remove the “obstructions” and all “overgrown vegetation,” according to the L.A. Times’ Steve Lopez, or seek a costly landscaping permit. Finley, with help from the other founding members of L.A. Green Grounds, resolved to do neither. Armed with a petition signed by several hundred people, they took the city on. Finley finally earned a reprieve in late 2011, when the hearing on his case was postponed indefinitely. Read more…

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Villaraigosa Offers Tough Stance on Gun Violence, but South L.A. Youth Say the Problem is Deeper than Guns

Memorial shrine for Eddie Mitchell, 15, one of six people killed in South L.A. on the Fourth of July (photo: sahra)

The first time he shot somebody, he says, another gang member helped him hold his hand steady as he aimed the gun out the window of the car they were sitting in.

He hadn’t wanted to do it — he didn’t even know the kid he thinks he hit in the back and the head, or whether he survived. But, holding the gun, he realized that if he didn’t pull the trigger, the other gang members would likely turn their guns on him.

Shocked at having shot someone, he began to cry as they sped off, he tells me. He was quickly told to shut the fuck up and not be such a pussy. So, he ended the night getting wasted in order to drown his horror about what he had just done.

He was only 16.

He has seen so much violence and gore — even prior to joining the gang — that he thinks he has just become numb to it. So numb, in fact, that he used to wonder if something was wrong with him — like maybe his brain had stopped being able to process certain emotions.

He’d see some kid with his head busted open and feel nothing, he says. Nothing except a fleeting mixture of gratitude that it wasn’t him lying there dead and fear that, one day, it could be.

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You could say his decision to join a gang and lead a violent lifestyle was his choice. Technically, it was. But it would be more accurate to say he was groomed for it.

Coming from a tumultuous home situation in a violent neighborhood, he had been fighting and involved with crews since middle school. High school was worse. Lunch tables were segregated by race and gang affiliation, and each one was headed up by that gang’s shot caller. It was not uncommon for students to be violently assaulted in the stairwells on their way to class. There were no safe havens, in other words. Joining a gang at least ensured someone would have your back if you got punked.

Others don’t have any choice in the matter at all. A youth born into a family of shot callers in a powerful gang was jumped in by his relatives at age 12. Dragged along when the family went out to do “work” from a young age, he has seen everything from shootings to people’s throats being sliced open. Because of his involvement, he has been the target of violence, too. He had to move after coming home one night to find would-be murderers had completely ransacked his apartment, pissed that they hadn’t been able to locate him. It wasn’t the first time someone had come looking to kill him. Read more…

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Extend Your Hours of Cyclo-topia: Start CicLAvia in South L.A.

The CicLAvia feeder ride from South L.A. led by the East Side Riders (photo: sahra)

Just one week after Angelenos proved they could happily bike and walk their way through Carmageddon, they get to put their freshly honed skills to the test at the nation’s biggest car-free festival.

CicLAvia‘s back, y’all!

Grab your bike, your family, and/or some friends and experience almost ten miles of cyclo-topia in the heart of L.A. this Sunday. Between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., road closures will allow you (and probably more than 100,000 of your neighbors) to carlessly explore the neighborhoods surrounding Exposition Park, Macarthur Park, downtown, Chinatown, and Boyle Heights.

What more could you want?

Well, Angelenos in the know will stretch out their hours of cyclo-fun by waking at dawn and starting their day in South L.A.

At 8:30 a.m., much of the South L.A. riding family will be gathering at the WLCAC in Watts to prepare to ride to CicLAvia’s southern hub. Consider yourself cordially invited to join supporters of the CicLAvia South East effort and Los Ryderz as we ride north to Exposition Park, ably led by the East Side Riders.

The approximately 7.5 mile jaunt to the South Hub along the sunny, sleepy streets of South L.A. was a lot of fun last April. Curious and smiling passersby wanted to know where we were headed and why. A rib shack owner even offered to open up shop and feed us.

There’s a secret added bonus for those who, like me, will have to ride through the central part of the city at dawn to get to Watts: you’ll be able to ride some of the empty streets of the official CicLAvia route before the masses descend upon it.

That’s right. It’s just like that ancient proverb says: the early-rising biker gets to have all the fun.

Or…something like that. I think that is the rough translation.

Shh. Don’t tell anyone. Let that be our secret. Read more…

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Science Center Given Approval to Remove Nearly 400 Trees to Make Way for Shuttle

Flyers mark trees for removal along Crenshaw Blvd. (photo: sahra)

When I first reported on the notices posted on trees along Crenshaw Blvd. back in July, I did not realize that those notices were more or less the extent of the outreach the Science Center had done with the communities that the Space Shuttle Endeavour would be traveling through.

Speaking with KCRW’s Saul Gonzalez last week, Leimert Park neighborhood council member Lark Galloway-Gilliam said that she had only found out about the planned cutting of the trees by accident. The Science Center, where the Shuttle will be housed, never contacted the communities directly to let them know or discuss their plans.

The oversight was disrespectful, many felt, not only given the detrimental impact to the property values that the loss of old trees would have, but also because of the emotional value of the trees for the community. Fourteen of those originally slated for removal had been planted in January of 1990 by community members as part of a memorial to Dr. Martin Luther King. Twenty-two years later, they now stand over forty feet high, in large part because of the care that community members dedicated to them every month.

Moreover, there was no study of the environmental impact, noted Galloway-Gilliam, despite the fact that 400 trees were on the chopping block in park-poor communities with high asthma rates. Something cyclists will no doubt find ironic, given that the striping of bike lanes — a benefit to the environment — can be held up because of environmental impact concerns.

The L.A. Times reports that the Science Center was finally given the green light to remove the nearly 400 trees (119 of which are in South Los Angeles) after a three-hour Public Works meeting yesterday at City Hall.

The advocacy efforts of the affected communities pushed the Science Center to promise more benefits to residents. Read more…

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Healthy Food Walk Around USC Neighborhood Unearths Tensions Between the University and the Community

Tafarai Bayne of TRUST South L.A. and RideSouthLA explains the goals of the day. (c) sahra

If you were one of the participants in the South L.A. Healthy Food Ride/Walk this past weekend, you could be forgiven if you walked away a little confused about the purpose of the walk.

It started out simple enough.

The group – largely comprised of super-motivated teens from South L.A. vying for a spot on the Youth Action Coalition run by Building Healthy Communities South L.A. — met at Mercado La Paloma, the new home of Community Services Unlimited’s (CSU) Village Market Place.

Tafarai Bayne, of TRUST South L.A. and RideSouthLA (a partnership between the Mobile Urban Mapping project at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism and TRUST South L.A.), laid out the plan for the day.

Participants were being tasked with helping the RideSouthLA team collect data and map the neighborhood. Specifically, they were asked to “take pictures of things that are healthy and unhealthy” (with regard to food choices) and “things that are safe or unsafe” (with regard to walking or biking conditions). The cellphone photos were to be sent in to the event site, to help compile a visual record of the walk. Read more…

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Educational Opportunity: Dr. Eric Walsh Discusses Health Effects of High Density Development on Children

Dr. Eric Walsh will address the intersection of high-density development with children's health at a free forum on Friday. (Flyer courtesy of the Urban Issues Forum)

This Friday morning, the California African American Museum (CAAM) will play host to a free breakfast talk by Eric Walsh, MD, MPH, on the Adverse Health Effects on Children of High-Density Development in Urban Transportation Corridors. Walsh is Director of Public Health/Health Officer for the City of Pasadena Public Health Department.

The talk is part of the Urban Issues Breakfast Forum of Greater Los Angeles, a monthly forum touching on urban social, economic, and political issues. Founded in 1999 by African-American journalists Anthony Asadullah Samad and Bob Farrell, the forum has served as a platform from which to involve minority communities in time-sensitive issues or educate the community on breaking news and other matters that impact their lives.

The forums are open to the public and held on a monthly basis (generally, the fourth Fridays). Participants can come early to eat and mingle (from 7:30 to 8:00) before the program begins at 8:15 a.m. The event ends promptly at 9:30 a.m.

According to their website, the Urban Issues Forum also works to promote civil engagement through higher education by offering annual scholarships to “students interested social advocacy, journalism, or public service through such community based organizations as 100 Black Men of Los Angeles, Black Journalists Association of Southern California, and the Los Angeles 10th District Women’s Steering Committee.”

The breakfast and the event are free, but parking is $10 at the lot at 39th and Figueroa Streets. The California African American Museum is located at 600 State Drive. The event coordinator asks that you RSVP at Urbanissuesforum@aol.com or call 323-789-6224.

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“Food Desert” Oases: Converting Corner Stores into Healthy Neighborhood Markets in South L.A. (Part I in a Series)

Corner markets tend not to be guardians of health and wellness.

“Most people DO realize that Flaming Hot Cheetos are not a good meal on a daily basis, three times a day,” said Clare Fox, Strategic Initiatives Coordinator at the Los Angeles Food Policy Council (LAFPC).

She was talking about the owners of corner stores in South L.A., a number of whom had come to the day-long training for business owners and non-profits looking to stock neighborhood markets with healthier foods sponsored by the LAFPC.

Contrary to what people might think about convenience (and, yes, even liquor) stores in lower-income neighborhoods, she said, “Store owners are really interested” in making some changes to what they offer. “Especially if they have a lot of youth coming in.”

But making ideas, good intentions, and aspirations materialize in the form of a transformed store is not so easy. Owners and non-profit representatives I spoke with cited the challenge of procuring better produce, dealing with spoilage, finding things that were culturally relevant to the communities they serve, having the necessary equipment, having space for the new products, accessing capital, and, of course, profitability.

Produce, said a man with experience working in larger grocery stores, is often a money-loser. The stores use it to draw people in, he said, but with the understanding that they would need to make their profits on other — usually junkier — products. Many owners of smaller stores in communities of less means feel they can’t risk making changes to their current business model.

What became clear over the course of the day, however, was that many of the owners did not necessarily have a clear business model.

Feedback from the owners on the workshops that addressed questions of strategic branding, merchandising, marketing, and store design, indicated that many were too busy with the day-to-day operations and survival to take a bigger-picture approach. Or, they had been practicing some of the presenters’ suggestions for some time without being conscious of the larger patterns or theories behind what they were doing.

Women that had owned a corner store in San Pedro mentioned that the presentation by Michael Powell of Shook Kelley, “How Store Design Can Impact Shopper Behavior,” gave them new ways to think about things that they had been doing all along. Having a frame, label, and reasoning with which to think about certain marketing practices, they felt, could make it easier to deploy those techniques more strategically and to track their success. Read more…

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Bikes, Health, Activism, and Gardening Galore Await You in South LA this Weekend

Summer is officially here and South L.A. is celebrating in style.

Tonight, the East Side Riders will host their Friday Night Ride. The low-key ride starts in the Watts area and heads in a different direction every week. Check out their event page for more details and look here for my story on the night ride we did to Long Beach a few weeks ago.

Get your hands dirty on Saturday with not one but TWO awesome gardening extravaganzas.

First up, Community Services Unlimited is holding its last Garden Gateway to Community Health workshop of the summer. They plan to celebrate by sharing a pot-luck of dishes featuring recipes from the workshop series as well as making dishes together with participants that feature summer produce. While munching away, you will learn about crop rotation, why it works, and ways that you can use it in your home garden. You will be offered seedlings for your own summer garden. CSU asks that you come prepared to attend the entire workshop, which runs from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. at their Urban Farm. You are welcome to bring a dish to share at the pot-luck. Please RSVP to Neelam@csuinc.org. The EXPO Center/CSU Urban Farm is located at the corner of King Blvd. and Bill Robertson Ln. (formerly Menlo Ave).

L.A. Green Grounds, a cool group of folks that garden out of the sheer goodness of their hearts, will be holding their monthly dig-in on Saturday, from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. They will dig up neighbors Roberto and Sandra’s front yard and re-sow it with edible herbs, vegetables, and fruit tree seedlings. They break mid-day for a pot-luck lunch, so bring something to share if you can. Meet up at 3820 S. Harvard Blvd. and come prepared to work hard (in a fun way, that is) with hat, sunscreen, and water bottle. Find more information about the event here.

Don’t want to root around in the dirt on Saturday? Activists from SCOPE (Strategic Concepts in Organizing and Policy Education), the League of Young Voters Education Fund, and Cashmere Agency will be hosting Ignite L.A.: Uprising Remixed from 1 to 4 p.m. at Mercado La Paloma. The event seeks to highlight the innovative work of community youth organizers, cultural workers, and unsung civic heroes throughout the LA area. With an eye to the elections in the fall, the organizers will take stock of the issues facing South L.A. 20 years after the riots and engage area youth and residents on the role that L.A. can play in influencing national trends. If you can’t make it in person, you can watch the livestream at YoungVoterLive.com.

If you’ve had your fill of politics this week, head farther South to Watts where several organizations are reaching out to communities with messages of peace and wellness.

The East Side Riders (ESR) will be helping the Mayor’s Office of Gang Reduction and Youth Development (GRYD) with the Vibes for Peace event. Held at the Watts Labor Community Action Committee (WLCAC), located at 10950 S. Central Ave., the event will feature a dog show, barbeque, skate competition at the skate park there, and water gun/water balloon fight. Members of the ESR will be on hand to help fix bikes for the community. The event begins at 10 a.m. on Saturday.

Also on Saturday, the Watts Men’s Health Fair will take place from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Watts Healthcare Corp. (10300 Compton Ave.) Get screened for cholesterol, diabetes, high blood pressure, STDs, and other fun things. OK, maybe getting your prostate screened is not so fun but, hey, it’s all FREE. After making sure your parts are all in working order, check out the car, motorcycle, and bike show.

Sunday, tour South L.A. with the Real Rydaz. Then stick around for the South L.A. Peace, Love and Family event at 86th and Vermont. Shuntain Thomas of the Rydaz and other members of the group We Are Responsible People (WARP) are shutting down the block for a party focused on health, community, and peace. Registration for the ride (which is free) begins at 8:30 a.m. in Exposition Park. Riders will roll out around 10 a.m. and head south on Vermont to El Segundo Blvd., before heading back up to the event site via Figueroa. More details on the event are here. More information on how Thomas hopes the event can inject hope and investment into the community is in my story here.

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South L.A. Happenings: Expanding CicLAvia, Raising Chickens, Riding for Solidarity, Health, and Fun, and Fighting Fracking

Urban Chicken on the Run. photo: sahra

As always, there is much happening in the streets of South L.A. this weekend.

First up tonight, a meeting in Huntington Park with the Ciclavia SouthEast Host Committee. If you love CicLAvia and want to support its expansion to other parts of Los Angeles, lend your voice at the meeting tonight and be a part of the movement. The meeting is from 6 – 8 p.m. at 6325 Pacific Blvd #300, Huntington Park, CA 90255.

At the CicLAvia expansion meeting tonight, you can meet up with the East Side Riders and join with them for their Friday night ride, which will take place after the meeting. I rode with them to Long Beach a few weeks ago, but the destinations change every week. Tonight, they are headed to Bob’s Big Boy Broiler in Downey.

Saturday, check out Community Services Unlimited’s workshop, Intro to Backyard Chickens and How to Preserve Summer Vegetables. They will convince you that raising chickens is much easier and more fun than you might think and teach you the basics so you can try it out yourself. They will also offer some simple home canning techniques for preserving your garden’s summer harvest. For more information or to RSVP contact CSU by phone at 323.299.7075. The workshop runs from 9 a.m. to noon at their Mini Urban Farm at the Expo Center (at Bill Robertson Ln. and King Blvd).

On Saturday, If you’re in the Watts area, stop by the YO! Watts youth center (at 1513 103rd St.) to meet the YO Watts Rydaz. The new group, launched by Javier Partida, will take an exploratory ride through Watts. The ride comes at a critical time — just a few blocks east of the youth center, a one-year old child was shot and killed in his father’s arms on June 4 by a teen on a bicycle. Authorities believe the shooting was gang-related, owing to the recent escalation in tension between African-American and Latino gangs in the area. The more folks that can make it out to support the Rydaz can help to show solidarity with those in Watts who are affected by violence and help youth take back the streets for recreation. The Rydaz will meet up at 10 a.m. and should return to the youth center by 1 p.m.

Things to look forward to:

June 12 and 13: Learn more about State Regulations and Fracking. Does the word “fracking” give you the heebie jeebies? It should, given that there no regulation in place that protects us from any potential harmful effects of the practice. The more I learned about the practice in the Baldwin Hills (see here and here), the more disturbed I became. Get involved in holding corporations accountable for the drilling practices in the Baldwin Hills area by attending one of the upcoming workshops and helping shape future regulation. The Department and the Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) will be on hand to listen to concerns and take recommendations. The workshops will be held Tuesday, June 12, 7:00 pm: City Council Chambers, 9770 Culver Blvd., Culver City, CA 90232 and Wednesday, June 13, 7:00 pm: Cal State University Long Beach – Student Union Building, 1212 N. Bellflower Blvd., Long Beach, CA 90815

Stop by TRUST South L.A.‘s office Tuesday, June 12 at 10 a.m. to talk about how to improve life for residents in the area of the Figueroa Corridor in South L.A. Did I mention the free coffee and cool folks? You can have that, too.

On June 17, the East Side Riders and USC’s ParTour team will be reprising their 10-mile ride through Watts starting at Augustus Hawkins Nature Park. You may have run into them at the Hammer last night and been handed one of the Ride South L.A. maps. Hang on to it and join us on June 17th! Event information is here.

July 1, the Real Rydaz will be holding a their South L.A. Peace, Love, and Family Ride and Fair from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at 86th and Vermont. The day will begin with a riding tour of South L.A. leaving from Exposition Park and led in style by the Real Rydaz themselves. And while it may be too early for you to be thinking about events in July, it is a great excuse for me to offer up a link to a new video from the Subculture Club about the group.

Have a great weekend!