Today the Venice Paparazzi spotlight shines on Community Healing Gardens’ founder Nicole Landers.
Tell us about the work your organization does and the programs you run?
Community Healing Gardens (CHG) grows stronger communities through urban gardening utilizing clean technology. We launched in Venice in June 2015 to bridge the divide in the Venice-Oakwood neighborhood, where our raised garden boxes grow street side. We are for community and embrace change. This is who we are at our core. Together with our volunteers, donors, and CHG team members, we built and planted 80 raised garden boxes growing food on the streets of Venice. There is no gate, no membership, no wait list, and all are welcome. This was the start of CHG and our Community Planting Program.
Three years later our program is still growing strong. We have 66 raised garden boxes thriving, with 11 of them being at the Oakwood Recreation Center, where we run an after school program two days a week teaching kids about gardening and healthy eating. Our Community Planting Program also works with the St. Joseph Center’s Culinary Program where we share how to grow food, maintain and harvest, eat hyper locally, and talk about the career paths in the food service industry and how it relates to urban farming. The food we grow can be eaten by anyone. Monthly we harvest food and give to the St Joseph Center’s, as well as Bread and Roses Work Experience Kitchen, where 100 meals are made for men and women who are homeless or transitioning back into society through their program. CHG also has an urban school garden program at Edwin Markham Middle School, the only public middle school in Watts. Watts is a known food desert. Most youth in Watts eat their only meals in school and unfortunately live under the poverty line.
Community Healing Gardens is now in partnership with the Los Angeles Clean-Tech Incubator, building the first-of-its-kind clean-tech urban school garden in Watts, featuring clean technology deployment, a community tree planting program, STEM education, new paths for green jobs and community engagement. It is the first and only urban tech garden housed on the campus of a local (LAUSD) school, Edwin Markham Middle School. Our urban tech garden program provides a working model for Title 1 schools across the country and will feature demonstrations of Los Angeles Clean-Tech Incubator. CHG has already made a significant impact on Watts by fostering community through urban gardening. School and community garden programs have proven benefits that transform lives and communities: better health, a cleaner environment, increased safety, improved academics, more community building and enhanced vocational opportunities.
How did the organization start?
The best thing about CHG is the people we have brought together. We are a family. Every time we have a volunteer day or special event it feels like I am at a reunion, seeing old faces and meeting new friends. Also, all the at-risk youth and adults we meet and positively impact. It never gets old!
The other amazing thing about our street side urban gardens in Venice is the fact we work with clean technology. We water with SkySource, water made from air. A clean technology company cofounded by acclaimed architect, David Hertz and photographer, Laura Doss-Hertz based in Venice. And they just won The Water Abundance XPRIZE with their latest project WEDEW.
How did you come up with the name of your nonprofit?
It was a collective decision and we knew we wanted to come from love, respect and all inclusive mentality.
What would you say is the best thing about your organization?
The best thing about CHG is the people we have brought together. We are a family. Every time we have a volunteer day or special event it feels like I am at a reunion, seeing old faces and meeting new friends. Also all the at risk youth and adults we meet and positively impact. It never gets old!
What has been your greatest reward of running your nonprofit?
These are some of my greatest rewards. Seeing it grow over three years and the lives we have changed for the better. How it has made our community more beautiful and engaging to talk over raised garden boxes growing food. Watching anyone picking the food and eating it right there is so cool! This happens when our cherry tomatoes and blueberries are in season. We shifted and adapted a program in a whole other community where a hand up is welcomed.
What have been your biggest challenges?
The biggest challenge is raising much needed funds as our garden boxes and programs are all year round, and need love 24/7. Also anyone that wants to work with us can opt in at any time. We always want to grow as much food as possible. We know it’s a process and there is no race.
What do you personally spend most of your time on?
I spend most of my time working with plants, hosting an Airbnb Experience, an entrepreneur in the healthy food industry, traveling; from local day trips to overseas, riding my bike on the beach boardwalk, paddle boarding, cooking, and hanging with my fiancé, friends and family.
How long have you been in business, and how has your organization changed or grown over time?
CHG has been in business for over three years. We have grown and learned a lot along the way. We have continued to improve upon the work we are doing in Venice and Watts to strengthen our programs so we can expand our reach.
What are your goals for the next three to five years?
Our goals are to expand in Venice and Watts, adopt other communities and schools in the City of L.A to work together with CHG. Another goal is setting up local resident system to become a backyardner or frontyardner growing their own food and sharing with their neighbors. We would also like to bring this to other urban neighborhoods across the United States working with their city’s clean tech incubator and companies. We all can have access to locally grown vegetables and fruits to have a healthier life and a healthier planet. So, let us know and we can together grow to make shift happen! Food Justice for All.
What support do you need? How can one help your organization?
The support we need is anything from garden tools and supplies, computers for our classroom, culinary gear to cook with, experienced gardeners who want to donate their time, as well as those who have never gardened before to join us. Our Volunteers are everything.
A new truck for Venice and water tanks, hoses and supplies to fill up with would be welcome. We also love company days of service and financial donations. So let us know how you would love to get in involved.
What advice would you give someone starting their own non profit?
There are so many local and national organizations already, so, if you are going to start one then ask why? Why not join an existing one and have that organization sponsor your first project to see if it really is what you want to do.
A FEW PERSONAL QUESTIONS:
Success is doing what you love, loving the planet, and making money doing it! What we do locally does affect globally.
List 1-2 things on your bucket list, and 1-2 things on your Venice bucket list.
- On my bucket list- Traveling more to places I’ve never been around the world. I am going to Paris, Brugge and Amsterdam with my fiancé and could not be more excited to immerse myself into the local culture of each city.
- On my Venice Bucket list- A few things that come to mind; Parasailing, learning how to sail and eating in some of the latest restaurants as I have a great love for local farm to table food.
Favorite affirmation, mantra, or quote?
If you’re always trying to be normal you will never know how amazing you can be. Maya Angelou
Favorite book, band or movie?
- Book: The Third Plate by Dan Barber
- Musician: Jason Mraz
- Movie: Black Panther
What other causes do you support?
- Climate Reality as I am a Climate Reality Leader under VP Al Gore
- Tree People
- St. Joseph Center
- Safe Place for Youth
- Heal the Bay
- 5 Gyres
- Life Rolls On
Where do you find inspiration?
I find my inspiration through nature, travel and people.
How do you treat yourself on your days off?
On a paddle in MDR or a long bike ride up the coast, hitting the beach for a bit of relaxing and then go out for a nice breakfast!
What’s one thing we can do to make the world a better place?
Grow your own food, or at least buy it as local as possible. Support your local farmers market!
Anything else you want to share about yourself to the world? Fun facts or accomplishments.
I went back to school recently at UCLA and studied sustainability. It was the best decision I ever made!
Beach life, eclectic, gritty, upbeat, walkable, artistic, tech, foodies, melting pot of people, and over-all an infamous place like no other in the world!
Describe your perfect day in Venice:
- A ride to the beach with on my Liv Bicycle with a Groundwork Almond Vanilla Latte in my own mug of course!
- A yoga class with Steve Jones at the Yoga Collective.
- Breakfast sandwich with vegan sausage from Flake and an almond chai.
- An afternoon of gardening; pruning, watering, and re planting with our St Joseph Culinary students and our volunteers.
- Lunch and a juice at Butcher’s Daughter sitting outside and people watching.
- A late afternoon paddle board session or a walk in the Venice Canals.
- A long walk on the beach with Mike and our awesome cocker spaniel, Babs in her Wonder Woof costume.
- Ending up at the Waterfront Venice for a sunset hang with a glass of rose’ and yummy snacks with Michael.
What is your craziest or fondest Venice experience?
My craziest experience was the day we mobilized the first placing the raised garden boxes on the parkways in Venice!
Favorite Venice go-to spots?
- Groundwork Coffee on Rose Ave.
- Big Daddy’s Pizza
- Butcher’s Daughter
- Waterfront Venice
- Wanderlust Creamery
- Sweetfin Poke
- Jenni’s Ice-cream
- Great White
- French Market
Who should Venice Paparazzi cast the spotlight on next?
Elissa Fisher Harris
Any shoutouts or thank you’s?
Thank you to Venice for opening your hearts to CHG. Thank you to Venice Paparazzi for shining a light on so many amazing people doing great work in Venice and honored to be included. Thank you to the CHG Board and Advisors, Volunteers, Supporters and Donors all this would not be possible without you. To Ben Hirschfeld my partner in CHG and our fearless team Azita and Timothy, SkySource, my parents Eileen and James, my in-laws to be Linda and Bob, my three besties Angela, Elana & Elissa and to my fiancé, Michael Schibel and to our two fur babies Babs and Mija for all your unconditional love.