The Guerilla Garden Ninjas City Co-op – An Urban Farm in Los Angeles

 Recently I put a call out to team members for interesting Green news happenings in their local community and the response was great!  One story impressed and inspired me so much I knew it had to be shared with the team.  I spent some time talking with our very own Juanita Rivas-Raymer about the concept of wild food foraging in her urban area of Los Angeles and together we dubbed her and her group’s efforts the Guerilla Garden Ninjas City Co-Op!

Juanita started this food co-op as a way to exchange foods and ideas about how to prepare it among her local community members.  It’s a way to take freeganism to the next level in that they source the foods and freely share among each other.  She was happy to provide some great answers to my follow up questions.

What got you interested in this to begin with? 

When we lived in Marin County, California, I was inspired by the many people I knew that wanted to live simpler lives and grow more of their food.  I never really thought about it before. This was about 10 years ago. 

When you say ‘trading food’, do you literally mean people bring their food and leave as an exchange for something else? 

Yep, I figure with so many friends that like to garden or have chickens, we are bound to have too much of one thing and would want to trade produce, eggs or starts. 

How many members does the coop have so far and what does it take to be a member?

I have about 10 people that want to join.

When did you officially start it?

Actually, we are going to start in about a month*. This is just one more aspect of what is already going on within my circle of friends.  In the last six months, I have taken over this “community” garden in my area that has been here for 11 years.  This space is adjacent to a lawyers office.  Two lawyers that used to work in that office decided that they wanted to work this piece of land to grow food on.  The land is privately owned by the railroad company, but not used for anything.  This, I guess is what you call “guerilla gardening”.  No one uses this space and no one has ever asked them to stop, so now I manage the space.

We have mature fruit trees, boysenberry and blackberry bushes, grapes and many edible weeds growing here.   My vision is to make this a community garden where it can be an outdoor classroom for workshops on gardening and wild foraging.  There are already people wanting to have a plot here and help me out.  Anyway, so the food coop just seemed to be a good way to let people know about this garden and fill a need here which is to have access to fresh organic, local food. 

*Juanita and I talked in February so this should be getting going soon!

How do you provide guidance on ways to prepare something someone has never heard of before? 

It’s all about word of mouth.  My friends husband works at the local college and he’s already brought his students to have workdays to help me with stuff around here.  Another group from one of the high schools had a class here on how to build a cob oven.  So, they built one here.  Word of mouth seems to be working for us now. 

Do you find it’s as popular in the winter as the summer? 

Living in southern California is pretty great when it comes to gardening.  The summer is so hot here that winter and spring is the big time for planning the big planting of everything. 

Where is it located?

The garden is located in Los Angeles.

Do you know of any other organizations like this out there?  Is it a growing trend, or, do you hope to make it one? 

There is an organization called Food not Lawns that I am part of that has inspired a lot of us to go out and do more on our own. Their mission was to educate people on how to convert their lawns to gardens.  They would even help you do it.  I quickly joined this group, we converted a hand full of lawns the first year, held workshops and seed swaps and other gatherings.  We are friends now and have transitioned into more education and getting together.  Besides wanting to live a more simple and sustainable live, I just want to connect with people and build community. 

Here’s a video of the group and the day we converted my back lawn. 

Claremont Food Not Lawns

Do you have an official name?  Not just the coop itself but what it’s doing?   

We are still thinking of a name that would include all of our activities. 

When did you start taking an interest in urban farming?

It was six years ago that I heard about a family by the name of “Path to Freedom” that started it all. They had taken out the garden to plant a food forest in the back and front yard. I loved the idea.  The thought of ripping out the lawn to grow food was crazy for my husband, who like his square patch to look at.  So I slowly started to take little pieces of it away and a few years later he finally said I could get rid of it all together. 

Juanita is a pioneer in the planning of and management of an urban garden project and I asked if she’d be willing to chat with others who are interested in taking the leap and starting a community garden.  She said she’d love to!  You can connect with Juanita over at her Etsy shop La Bolsa Chica anytime.

To see more photos of the Garden Ninjas in action please visit their Flickr Album.

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  1. Its been so exciting to see the positive response on this article and I’m so very glad you’ve been able to give additional advice & guidance to members of our community Juanita :-)

    Kudos on the additional support in spreading the word! Be sure to keep us updated with pictures and information as you all move forward. Good luck on your success with this project, its so cool I wish I lived near L.A. just so I could join you all!

  2. Elena - SimplyNu says:

    So inspiring! Thanks for sharing your story, Juanita.

    I always dreamed of starting a community garden in my neighborhood. It’d be such a great complement to the CSA a friend and I started last year. Would love to talk to you about how you did it.

    • I’d love to talk to you about how to start a gardening group. I didn’t really talk about it in the article, but I wanted to let people know that I am like most people; super busy and not really making it financially, but yet it is still possible to do things like this. I just had to make it a group that I don’t micro manage. Getting together once a month and making those connections with people in your community that want to help lessens the load too.
      Take care, Juanita

      • Elena - SimplyNu says:

        Sounds good. When are you available? How about I send you a list of questions by email and you get back when you have a chance? Our CSA is still growing but we have meetings with local politicians (keep fingers crossed) so that’d be a great place to bring the idea up.

        Let me know how that sounds. Xo – Elena

  3. What a fantastic idea! I love that you’re sharing the knowledge and love of food with others.

    We’ve taken similar steps here in our woods too. We have pepper plants in our hanging baskets and last year planted a large area of edible daylilies. Squash plants climb next to the house, berries grow wild at the edges of the woods, and tomato plants pop up here and there. And you know, they look lovely. We have a food garden but it’s fun to have these plants closer to the house and accessible to the kids. If they decide to pick a bunch of squash flowers, we fry them up and eat them. Fun for them, fun for us.

    Keep up the great work, Juanita. What a fabulous project.

  4. Love this – “Food not Lawns”.

  5. I like the name you gave us. “Guerilla Garden Ninjas food coop” Thanks for the feature.

    • The latest update on the coop. The church where I teach yoga is considering hosting our gatherings and helping us get the word out and adding yet another component to the group where we donate some of our harvest to local organizations that help people in need. This is so exciting!