The mystery man bringing an edible garden to an urban wasteland

A photo of the urban garden (and towering corn crop) from this past summer. 

A photo of the urban garden (and towering corn crop) from this past summer. 

For months now, I've been biking by a tiny triangle of land capping one end of a self-storage facility in my West L.A. neighborhood and wondering about the mysterious master gardener who had taken it into his own hands to transform a blink-if-you-miss-it slice of urban wasteland into a bountiful edible garden. The lot was in the least likely and perhaps most unappetizing of places to grow food: situated under the metro overpass, on a thoroughfare packed with smog-spewing cars and alongside a bike path strewn with trash by a homeless encampment. Oh, and can you see the sign in the photo above for the adjacent strip club? (Not that those employed by strip clubs don't enjoy locally grown veggies. Or gardening, for that matter.)

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Yet, every time I biked by, I could see from the overflowing abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables that the plants couldn't care in the least about their surroundings. Tomatoes, corn, kale, cabbage, strawberry vines and artichokes pushed their way through and even up and over the chain-link fence. And every few months, I would pass by and see that the bulk of the crops had been recently harvested, with seedlings for the next season carefully rotated in and planted in tidy rows. The gardener was never there and the gate was always locked. I started to wonder if this guerrilla permaculturalist was hopping the fence and planting his or her seeds by streetlight. 

But yesterday, the mystery was at long last solved. I biked by and saw a kindly man waving at me through the fence, as though he knew that I had been wondering about him all along. I hit the brakes and cycled around to say hi, and he told me that he worked at the storage facility and that he, indeed, was the gardener.

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I'll call him E, to protect his privacy here, although he welcomed me in to take some photos. He is a recent immigrant from El Salvador, and as we chatted about his plans for the garden this fall, he told me that he had recently suffered a family tragedy back in his home country; that life in America so far had been very hard, that it was not what he had expected. Why did he plant the garden, I asked? He didn't hesitate. "I thought something green should grow here."

More photos from E's garden (and next crop) later this fall.