Volunteers young and old grabbed hoes and shovels recently to expand both the size and the reach of the Friends Peace Garden in South Los Angeles, a project of the American Friends Service Committee. The expansion was a part of the March 31 “Good Food Day of Service” city wide event, hosted by Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, to  promote healthy eating and equal access to healthy food.

Since 2010, AFSC has been working with at-risk high school students on their own award-winning peace garden at the All Peoples Community Center. Last month, the volunteers prepared the garden and installed seven 6’ by 3’foot raised beds that soon will hold vegetables, flowers and even trees. Eleven families have agreed to plant and maintain the garden.

"This was a great opportunity to truly open the garden up to the entire community and double its size," says Crystal Gonzalez, AFSC’s peace education coordinator.

One volunteer, Graciela Garcia spoke for many as she broke up dirt clods with her son Henry, 5. “I’m hoping my kids will learn to appreciate and enjoy healthy food through working in the garden.”

Community gardens are a way for neighborhoods to address the lack of access to fresh produce. They also foster a sense of empowerment and shared purpose against  neighborhood gang violence.

“I think this project is important because it will teach kids to love the land, to appreciate the process of planting and growing your own food. I hope more kids grow up to eat food that they grow,” said Julia Huerta, whose last name means “garden” in Spanish.

For Carolina Bobadilla, mother of two, a community garden is an important step towards health. “This garden is really so that kids will grow up to be healthier; there is so much obesity and malnutrition in the community. This garden will produce food that is all-natural, with no pesticides,” she said.

After a quick lunch break, the group installed the raised beds and filled them with soil and compost. “This garden will be great. The community will get to walk by it each day, watch the plants grow and just take pride in it and their neighborhood,” said Graciela Garcia.

Though the eleven families still have hard work ahead, Maria Alvarez already is thinking about the next step, saying, “I hope this project inspires people to plant their own gardens at home.”