In America there is a groundswell of organizations dedicated to drawing attention to the importance of soil health and restoration. In Venice, we have one of those organizations right in our own backyard.
Kiss the Ground is a non-profit dedicated to soil restoration worldwide spearheaded by a group of Venice locals.
“We wanted to involve our community, get people digging in the dirt, and seeing what it looks like when you take a piece of property in the city with contaminated, heavy metals and restore it,” said Lauren Tucker, Education and Garden Director at Kiss the Ground.
The result? The Venice Arts Plaza located at 685 Venice Blvd. in what was once a near dust bowl out the front of Beyond Baroque and SPARC LA.
“The space is an inspiration. People can see what it looks like to have agriculture right here in Los Angeles,” Tucker said.
Getting together with the Venice Neighborhood Council, Kiss the Ground talked to Beyond Baroque and SPARC LA, and then approached the City Council and asked permission to use the space.
“This property tested high in lead and zinc when we started,” Tucker said. “We have a lot of lead here in Venice, from the days of leaded gasoline, a lot of it blew towards the beach and settled in the ground. Lead can also be from old lead paint; the buildings on the site are really old. The zinc that we found here on the property, that’s all from car tires.”
Because of the amount of lead and zinc in the soil, the garden beds needed to be raised to protect some of the plants.
“Lettuces and the more delicate plants can uptake toxins,” Tucker said. “The fruit trees and the bushes are never going to push heavy metals into their fruits so we know they’re safe for human consumption, the plants might not grow as well in contaminated soil but it’s not going to be harmful.”
Tucker explained that there are three main benefits of healthy soil.
“Healthy soil has the ability to draw carbon out of the atmosphere and sequester it, not forever, but through regenerative farming and farming with soil health in mind this has a positive effect on our climate crisis,” Tucker said. “It’s not the only solution but it’s one of many ways we can help our environment.”
Another benefit of healthy soil is that it equals healthier food.
“The soil provides the nutrients for the planets, it’s possible today to eat an orange that has no vitamin C content in it because if the tree doesn’t have access to anything that would create the vitamin C, it can’t,” Tucker said.
Lastly and rather timely, Tucker explained that healthy soil has a better water holding capacity.
“When soil is healthy it holds water so when it does rain it will hold onto the water and release it to plants as needed,” Tucker said. “So for example, this garden from the end of October until two weeks ago was watered once. When the soil is healthy when you’re doing a good job managing the soil, there is no need for that much water.”
Kiss the Ground maintains the garden with a host of volunteers and are always welcoming members of the community who are keen to dig in the dirt.
“At least 300 different people have had their hands in the dirt here,” Tucker said. “Volunteers take food but really anyone passing by can take food, there’s no fence.”
St Joseph’s 10-week culinary training program for low-income, homeless, and unemployed send students to the garden once a week over the duration of the course.
These students help maintain and learn from the garden, harvesting fruits and vegetables to take back to the center for their feeding program.
Long-term goals for the non-profit are continuing the educational opportunities and courses, holding events and generally being a space that encourages the community to involved.
“The next big project is building a cistern which would capture and hold rainwater from the large Beyond Baroque roof,” Tucker said.
This labor-intensive project will cost around $5,000 so Kiss the Ground is looking for donors from within the community who are interested in helping with that.
With some great events planned in the coming weeks there’s no better time to get involved. On May 3 the garden will celebrate its official dedication with a ceremony from 12:30 pm.
RSVP to any of Kiss the Ground’s upcoming events at thesoilstory.com.