Cultivating a Bright Future in Venice

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The internship team: Garden Manager Natalie Flores, Jose, Veronica Martinez, Garden Manager Matt Finkelstein, and Raymar.

Kiss the Ground

by Melanie Camp

The Kiss the Ground Regenerative Garden sweeps around Beyond Baroque, from Venice Fire Station 63 to SPART Art, in the Old Venice Police Station on Venice Blvd. A dustbowl just a few years ago, the area is now a fertile ground where more than plants flourish.

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The Kiss the Ground regenerative Garden at 685 Venice Blvd., Venice.

A Venice-based organization, Kiss the Ground is planting seeds for future change.

“We operate an urban demonstration garden promoting principals of regenerative agriculture and permaculture here in Venice,” said Matt Finkelstein, a garden manager for Kiss the Ground. “Regenerative agriculture is a new form of agriculture that actually works to combat climate change by sequestering carbon. We’re showing what is done on a large scale, on a small scale to show the local community what they can be doing to have a positive impact on the world,” Matt told Yo! Venice one sunny Friday afternoon.

Focused on making a global impact, what Kiss the Ground cultivates on a local level is changing lives.

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Kiss the Ground Garden Manager Matt Finkelstein.

“We host regular events here at the garden, and we also received a grant from the City of Los Angeles to employ homeless youth in the garden. So we partnered with Safe Place for Youth (S.P.Y.), and we have three interns working with us. We are taking in youth from the streets who have no experience in this but are tremendously passionate about it, and we’re giving them experience and essentially, employing them to work in the gardens with us,” said Matt.

Over 12-weeks, Kiss the Ground teaches the principals of permaculture and gives young people hands-on practice, “…it’s just been incredible how they’ve taken to it. They’ve no experience in any of this kind of stuff, we turn them onto it, and they are so stoked and passionate about it, and they see a light forward, as we do too. It’s a really cool thing,” said Matt.

Veronica Martinez and Jose both applied for the internship through S.P.Y.

“I wanted to do this because eventually, I want to own my own restaurant so I wanted to learn about gardening so that I can maintain my own garden for the restaurant,” said Jose. “I’ve been learning a lot more than I expected to here and I like it. I’ve gained a lot of knowledge that I didn’t have before. Mainly, how important soil is and how much of a heavy impact it has.”

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Cultivating a bright future.

For Veronica, who had always been interested in plants and gardening, the internship has given her great community pride. “It’s been, in a sense, eye-opening but it’s also made me so proud of our community that all these kind of things are actually going on.”

Veronica used to work with AmeriCorps. “We did a lot of plant removal and trail maintenance, so now I like to be on the other side of that, planting things and harvesting things. Instead of just tossing it behind a bigger bush or mulching it, we can actually eat it and compost it, and continue the cycle.”

Education and employment opportunities play a huge role in helping young people stay off the street.

“I love it! I’ve met nothing but really cool people here. So, we’ve been here for six weeks so far, every week we’ve had people come from other places, we’ve had a bunch of speakers come from places like Rainbow Acres and all these different places from in the community, so it’s been really nice,” said Veronica.

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Rebuilding the cob oven.

Splattered in mud, both Veronica and Jose had just finished rebuilding the garden’s cob oven with help from the team at Quail Springs Permaculture. The week before, the group hosted a speaker from Venice High School’s learning garden. After the talk, they visited the garden at the school which “is just like, this wonderland of greenery. It’s just like, really inspiring,” said Veronica.

Kiss the Ground’s Regenerative Garden has given Veronica hope for the future. “I guess just realizing that people are trying to help the planet…this world is so messed up and you think of yourself as such a small part. Just one person. Like what can you do? But, a community will make a bigger impact. Knowing that other people are doing it and you can just help them and actually help everybody around you. It’s just really heartwarming.”

While neighbors are free to roam the garden and even harvest a handful of kale or rip up a beet or two, Matt says it’s important you learn how to harvest. Ripping a kale leaf off the wrong way can kill the entire plant. And don’t be too greedy, “leave some for us, so we can continue to teach people,” said Matt.

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Veronica Martinez and Jose in the garden.

“It’s majestic. This majestic feeling. Like, ‘oh my gosh, this literally used to be dirt and a seed and now it’s this big old plant. I kind of get hungry, to be honest. I just want to eat it,” said Veronica, laughing as she inspected a small crop of Swiss chard.

Visit the Kiss the Ground regenerative Garden at 685 Venice Blvd., Venice. Find out more at online at www.thesoilsstory.com.

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