The Mansfield Community Garden is just a few blocks from the Los Angeles LGBT Center’s Youth Center on Highland.
It was longtime Center volunteer Shawn Kravich, an attorney with a green thumb, who saw a ripe opportunity to make a connection.
For the past three months, Kravich has spent two mornings a week at the garden with groups of youth who have come to consider the space a haven.
“It’s the thing I look forward to most each week,” says Kravich, who has been gardening since he was a child.
“We are able to give people a sense of pride of ownership over their specific plot. A lot of youth here have felt like they don’t have a sense of ownership.”
The program Kravich has designed divides larger plots into smaller, individual spaces. This allows each person to express their own perspective and to have a space of their own.
Participants make their own plant selections, take care of their own seedlings, then share what they’ve learned and grown with the rest of the group.
“The practice of showing up twice a week and having something to care for makes a small but transformative difference in each person’s day-to-day lived experience, my own included,” says Kravich, who is an executive committee member of the Center’s Young Professionals Council.
“The garden becomes its own teacher of important life lessons: only when our basic needs are met do we have the ability to thrive; we often need the support of others to get through challenging periods; success requires being patient, showing up, and having a bit of good luck.”
The Youth Garden is one of the newer additions to a wide range of programs and services offered by the Center to LGBT and questioning youth – many of whom are experiencing homelessness in LA.
Kravich is executive director at the John N. Calley Foundation which has the mission of creating opportunities for unrecognized, talented youth.
The garden has fit right in with his work there and the foundation is funding the youth gardening program.
A small rainbow Pride flag proudly stands at one end of the Center’s plot where there are carrots, blueberries, corn, tomatoes, watermelons, pumpkins, artichokes, sage, lavender and even some beautiful sunflowers growing.
“Over time, it gets fun,” says 22-year-old O’Ryan. “When you come back, you never know what your plant might look like.”
O’Ryan rarely misses the Monday and Friday morning visits to the garden and grew the mint that was recently used to make ice cream for the group.
Gem, 21, hasn’t yet planted anything in the garden but has been taken in by its ambience and was especially impressed with the mint ice cream.
“I had two cones,” Gem confesses. “It was wonderful and it comes from such a precious place.
“I’m like a bystander. I go and visit and check everything out. It’s beautiful. It’s positive energy, it’s nourishment and caring. It’s community.”
Youth Center volunteer Levon, 22, is at the garden nearly every day watering his sage and cactus plants and any other plants in the plot that may look dehydrated.
“I just sit there,’ he says. “I’m from the South and we have lots of trees and open spaces and I’m used to that. Out here in Los Angeles, there’s not as much. I feel good being at the garden. It gives me a little dose. I love nature, seeing little bugs, the progress of the plants – the whole process of nature.”
In addition to the mint ice cream, Levon has tasted artichoke dip and cucumber dip made from the vegetables in the garden.
“I love the idea of harvesting – it’s way better than store bought,” he says. “They’ve taught us that patience is a virtue. It’s a hope kind of thing.”
Such passion from the participants and an eagerness to learn is what
Kravich was hoping for when he heard about this community garden that was without staffing or resources.
“I was able to design a program that went beyond basics of gardens and helped develop some life skills,” he says.
“I wanted them to have the opportunity to develop skills and to tend to something of their own. It teaches patience because it doesn’t reward you instantly. I was thrilled by how many people just love coming. The youths in our programs are so remarkable and resilient.”