Building ties in Koreatown

Charlie Kaijo

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Members fill their first garden planter with soil. Jonathan Yee (center), project coordinator, said that what they do for each space depends on the space and the person’s preferences.

A small group gathers at what used to be the front lawn of Alexandra Suh’s home in Koreatown. Her front yard has been cleared of sod and a large mound of soil rests near her driveway. Steve Lisp, agricultural teacher at Sylmar High School, carries out planters of cauliflower, kale, broccoli and chive sprouts he has donated. It is now the site of KIWA’s Farms and Gardens project.

“The purpose is to build ties among community members through the process of gardening,” Sue said. The food will be given to community members and neighbors.

The Korean Immigrant Worker’s Alliance (KIWA) has identified a lack of green and community space as a problem for many Koreatown residents. Koreatown has attracted foreign investment that has transformed the area into a booming enclave of mostly commercial properties.

“Developers now are building things that are not for residents. Many of the buildings and spaces in Koreatown are being bought and developed for young professionals and not for the Koreatown residents,” said Jonathan Yee, project coordinator of KIWA.

KIWA members dig holes for mounting planters on the front yard of a member’s house, one of the sites of its Farms and Gardens project. Photo credit: Charlie Kaijo / Assistant Photo Editor

“The aim is to change that and have it so that the residents have a say, and they have a part in the development of Koreatown.”

The project is in early development. With two Farms and Gardens sites built, the organization plans for its next site near Cahuenga Elementary School. Yee said KIWA will eventually display and distribute maps showing each of the sites.

“The map is to visualize how all of the Farms and Gardens sites are connected. It will show that a site is not isolated but is part of a larger network.”

Yee said that the project is symbolic of the community’s needs. “We live here and this is our space too, and we’re able to change it to serve our needs, as well.”

Jonathan Yee, project coordinator, washes the hands of young helpers after completing KIWA’s second Farms and Gardens site. “The garden in front of Alex’s house is supposed to bring people together around the issue of green space in addition to being a visual example of what people can do with their yards that is beneficial for the community,” he said. Photo credit: Charlie Kaijo / Assistant Photo Editor