Exploring LA neighborhoods - 1st stop Highland Park

Karen Mack, Amy Inouye and Nicole Gatto in Highland Park at the starting point of the Trekking LA tour. Chickenboy, a Highland Park landmark, stands atop Future Studio Gallery.
Karen Mack, Amy Inouye and Nicole Gatto in Highland Park at the starting point of the Trekking LA tour. Chickenboy, a Highland Park landmark, stands atop Future Studio Gallery.
Shirley Jahad

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This weekend is the start of what is becoming a summertime tradition in Los Angeles. Trekking LA is an exploration of L.A. neighborhoods including each community’s history, art, culture, gardens and food.

It is a chance to bring out the family and learn more about Los Angeles.

“Our organization is really focused on connecting people to the wonderful diverse neighborhoods of Los Angeles," said Karen Mack, the executive director of LA Commons, the non profit group hosting the tours. "We invite people to come to neighborhoods like Highland Park, Leimert Park, and East Hollywood and experience the rich culture to be found in those neighborhoods.”

The tours happen once a month through the summer. First stop: Highland Park in Northeast L.A.

“For one thing, Highland Park is really a hub of creativity," says Amy Inouye, head of Future Studio Gallery. She says she wants people to experience the artistic flavor of Highland Park. "We have so many artists in the neighborhood; sculptors, painters, performance artists even,” she said.

The theme for the tours this year is Urban al Fresco.

“I’ll just let your mind wander on that,” Mack said. “Think dinner in gardens, sipping sangria and just experiencing the loveliness of community garden, which is such a movement in Los Angeles I think.”

Mack says there are about 80 community gardens across the city.

“So often the people who are involved in gardens are also the cultural people who are in the neighborhoods,” she said.

Milago Allegro is a community garden right behind the Highland Theater on South Avenue 56 in Highland Park. The garden has been around for a little over a year. Nicole Gatto is the director. The garden is about 10,000 square feet or a quarter of an acre and consists of 32 raised beds.

Michael Possert works on his plot, which is growing an impressive amount of pumpkins.

“The pumpkins have taken over,” he said. “We kind of knew they would.”

His reasons for letting the pumkins run the garden?

“I’m a big fan of Halloween and Day of the Dead so …” he said.

He says he looks forward to making pumpkin pie. Looking back on the time before the lot was transformed into an array of color and life, Possert says the garden was an abandoned eyesore for more than 20 years.

“When we heard that one of our neighbors, Nicole Gatto was looking to do a community garden,” he said. “We were very supportive of it because this is so much better than what it had been; just an overgrown and dangerous lot.”

Transforming the barren land from an eyesore to a thriving garden took more than just planting a few seeds. First, Gatto had to figure out who owned the lot. The city owned the lot and planned to turn it into a parking lot.

“You can see we have plenty of parking lots here,” so she says she fought to make the case for the garden instead.

And she says people can come to the garden for monthly classes in composting, for instance.

“Part of our mission here is to integrate urban farming, art and education," she said. "When we were approached by the LA Commons group we were really excited because what better way to connect growing food and eating food? So the idea of having dinner in our garden, in a garden setting just seems like it makes so much sense.”

Guests will have their dinner outside and actually be surrounded by the vegetable patches that grew many of the ingredients they’re enjoying.