Wednesday December 19, 2018

Tending the Dense Vegetation: Urban Gardeners Feed Body and Soul in Los Angeles

Let's take a peek into the lives of the "Guerrilla Gardeners" of LA

Guerrilla gardener
Ron Finley has gained famed as a guerrilla or "gangsta" gardener for his efforts to beautify unused strips of public land. Local officials now support the effort, VOA
  • Los Angeles city officials approved community gardens on public parkways, the narrow strips of land between the street and sidewalk two years ago
  • From figs and Swiss chard to edible nasturtiums, a range of fruits and vegetables that are rare in the inner city are grown
  • Los Angeles is now dotted with dozens of gardens and small strips of vegetation outside the homes of residents

Los Angeles, June 24, 2017:  edgier description of a man who once defied local authorities to bring nature to the inner city.

Finley’s efforts to plant edible gardens on public property have earned him court citations, but they also brought a victory two years ago when Los Angeles city officials approved community gardens on public parkways, the narrow strips of land between the street and sidewalk.

Many mornings, Finley can be seen tending the dense vegetation in the sliver of a garden outside his house.

“This is a food forest,” he said, pointing to lemon trees, sunflower plants and tomato vines. “There’s fruit trees, there’s also weeds that are edible in here. And I want to educate people to the fact that there’s food all around you.”

From figs and Swiss chard to edible nasturtiums, Finley grows fruits and vegetables that are rare in the inner city, where he says residents have better access to fast food and liquor stores than to healthful produce.

He spends much of his time doing public speaking and urging people to start community gardens. But many in Los Angeles were already on board with the concept before he became involved.

A few miles from Finley’s garden in South Los Angeles, Tamiko Nakamoto walks through plots of edible plants tended by 22 gardeners.

This community garden is not far from the epicenter of the 1992 Los Angeles riots, and Nakamoto said the community activist who set it up shortly afterward wanted “a place of peace and an oasis in this city that’s surrounded by turmoil.”

ALSO READ: Ten Trees that have Spiritual Significance Attached to them

There are “collard greens, sugar cane, bananas, tomato trees (vines), cabbage,” said one gardener, a towering immigrant from the Virgin Islands who uses his Rastafarian name, Makado. He is here most days weeding and watering.

Los Angeles is now dotted with dozens of gardens and small strips of vegetation outside the homes of residents.

Others are being planted. Los Angeles officials are in the process of approving tax breaks for owners of vacant lots if the land is used for community gardens. The City Council gave preliminary approval to the measure this month.

“I want them to do more,” Finley said of city officials. “I want them to advocate for this. I want them to put bulletin boards up. I want them to have workshops showing people how to do this.”

Slowly, patches of greenery and color are appearing amid the concrete, and Finley said these gardens make residents feel “healthy all over, not just your body, your mind-set, everything because looking at this, smelling this affects every sense in your body.”

Just as importantly, he said, these gardens are putting fresh fruits and vegetables on the tables of local families. (VOA)

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A New Virus Typhus Rises In Los Angeles

Officials in Los Angeles say they are working toward housing for the county’s 53,000 homeless residents to relieve conditions that help give rise to typhus and other diseases.

coal miner,Typhus
Retired coal miner James Marcum, who has black lung disease, takes a pulmonary function test at the Stone Mountain Health Center in St. Charles, Virginia, U.S., May 18, 2018. (VOA)

Typhus, a bacterial infection that is sometimes life threatening, is on the rise in Los Angeles and several other U.S. cities. Public health officials say homelessness is making the problem worse and that the disease, which is associated with poverty and poor sanitation, is making a comeback in the United States.

Los Angeles County has seen 64 cases of typhus this year, compared with 53 at the same point last year and double the typical number, with a six-case cluster among the homeless in L.A. this year. Two cities in the county that have separate counts are also seeing higher numbers: Long Beach with 13 cases, up from five last year, and Pasadena with 20, a more than three-fold increase from 2017.

At a clinic in the L.A. neighborhood called Skid Row, Dr. Lisa Abdishoo of Los Angeles Christian Health Centers is on the lookout for symptoms.

“It’s a nonspecific fever,” she said, “body aches, sometimes a headache, sometimes a rash.”

This kind of typhus is spread by fleas on rats, opossums, or even pets and is known as murine typhus, from the Latin word for “mouse.”

The risk is higher when people live on the streets in proximity to garbage, but the disease seems to be spreading through the Southern United States.

Not the typhus of WWI

“It’s never been considered a very common disease,” said Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, “but we seem to see it more frequently. And it seems to be extending across from Southern California all along the Mexican border into southeastern Texas and then into the Gulf Coast in Florida.”


A homeless man sits at his street-side tent along Interstate 110 along downtown Los Angeles’ skyline, May 10, 2018. Thousands of homeless people sleep on the streets of Los Angeles County.. VOA


Texas had 519 cases last year, said spokeswoman Lara Anton of the Texas Department of State Health Services. That’s more than three times the number in 2010, with clusters in Houston and Galveston. No figures for this year have been released.

This is a separate disease from typhoid fever and is not the epidemic form of typhus that caused hundreds of thousands of deaths in war time. That type, called epidemic typhus, is carried by body lice and often spreads in conflict zones. It led to millions of deaths in World War I alone.

Flea-borne typhus, the kind seen in California and Texas, is serious but often clears up on its own and responds to an antibiotic, Abdishoo said.

Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the Baylor College of Tropical Medicine, shows Associated Press journalists areas of Houston’s 5th Ward that may be at high risk for mosquitoes capable of transmitting the Zika virus in Houston.. VOA

“It seems to get better a little faster if you have the treatment,” she said. “But there are cases where people have had more severe complications — it’s rare, but getting meningitis, and even death,” she cautioned.

Migration, urbanization, climate change

The reason for increased typhus numbers is uncertain, but it may be linked to migration, urbanization and climate change, said Hotez, the disease specialist. In some parts of the world, typhus is still linked to war and instability, “in the conflict zones in the Middle East, in North Africa, Central Asia, East Africa, Venezuela, for instance with the political instability there,” he said.

Murine typhus is one of several diseases on the rise in the southern United States, Hotez said.

People line up on Skid Row in Los Angeles to receive food, water, clothing and other basic necessities from Humanitarian Day Muslim volunteers.. VOA

“Others include dengue, now emerging in southern Texas and Florida, the Zika virus infection, Chikungunya. We have a huge problem with West Nile virus,” he added, and Chagas disease, a condition usually seen in Latin America.

A report in May from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that such “vector-borne” diseases, transmitted by ticks, fleas or mosquitoes, more than doubled in the United States between 2004 and 2016.

Hotez says they are on the rise in many industrial nations with crowded cities and pockets of poverty.

Also Read: A Full Guide To Public Health Disease Hepatitis

Skid Row physician Abdishoo says flea-borne typhus is still uncommon on the streets of Los Angeles, but “it has us all on high alert for this illness that we don’t necessarily think too much about. We want to be vigilant,” she added, “when you see a communicable disease on the rise.”

Officials in Los Angeles say they are working toward housing for the county’s 53,000 homeless residents to relieve conditions that help give rise to typhus and other diseases. Voters approved funding in 2016 and 2017 to finance the efforts. (VOA)