The Del Aire Public Fruit Park is an urban fruit orchard located in Del Aire Park, Los Angeles. Commissioned by the Los Angeles County Arts Commission, it was created by the artist collaborative Fallen Fruit with the involvement of residents of Del Aire, Los Angeles County, staff, and volunteers. The Fruit Park is expressive of Fallen Fruit’s ambition to use fruit – growing it, sharing it, cooking with it, eating it – as a medium for civic participation and a means to reconnect urban spaces with agriculture.
Established in 2012 on an approximately 135m2section of Del Aire Park, the Fruit Park was officially launched and dedicated in January 2013. It consists of an orchard of 27 fruit frees, eight native grapevines and herb plantations. The seasonal varieties that were chosen will ensure that fruit can be harvested throughout the year: loquats with fruit in spring; apples, apricots, figs, grapes, peaches, plums, nectarines in summer, persimmons in autumn/fall, and passionfruit and pomegranate in winter. In addition, avocados, lemons, limes and kumquats may fruit throughout the year. Prior to the establishment of the orchard, Fallen Fruit staged a fruit jam (an event at which people bring and share fruit to cook varieties of jam) and a tree adoption day to galvanise the community to become engaged with the project. The tree adoption day saw over 60 fruit trees being distributed to local residents to plant in their streets, so that the ‘footprint’ of the Fruit Park exceeds the boundaries of the park itself.
The Fruit Park is an exemplary project of the Fallen Fruit collaboration, which, as David Burns suggested in an interview with the author, seeks to use “fruit as a common denominator to change the way we see the world.” Collaboration and community engagement through real-time events are intrinsic to Fallen Fruit’s highly egalitarian practice, as these are a primary means of provoking people to reflect upon and question the things “we think we already know.” The artists are particularly concerned with what people think they already know about the urban environment. For instance, they are interested in the systems and habits that determine the way we share, move through and partition densely populated spaces. They are also concerned with the manner in which people engage with the ecology of cities, and the way city residents have come to accept their alienation from the source of their food, both geographically and conceptually. The Del Aire Public Fruit Park manifests all of these concerns, by engaging residents at a very local level in the irresistible sense of fellowship that arises from sharing the pleasure of growing, harvesting and eating fruit. As the artists suggest it is “a social space which creates community through the most timeless ritual, tending a shared garden.” Fallen Fruit have aspirations to establish fruit parks in many other locations, and are advocating for fruit trees to be added to the Los Angeles City’s official list of trees that are permitted by planted in public space.
The Del Aire Fruit Park was very much oriented to Fallen Fruit’s long running ambition to use fruit as a lubricant for civic engagement and community building. The artists view the simple pleasures associated with growing, harvesting, sharing, cooking and eating fruit as a Trojan horse that can ultimately transform the ecology of cities and stimulate new, more sustainable ways of inhabiting the urban environment. Thus the Fruit Park reflects the artists’ faith in the inspirational power of collaborative art projects which engage members of the local community.
The Fruit Park will only flourish if local people are prepared to take collective ownership of public spaces and become stewards of those public spaces in a collaborative spirit. Thus the artists were concerned with creating a meaningful focal point for a neighbourhood that would ultimately strengthen the bonds of community within that neighbourhood. Their hope is that by bringing simple and enjoyable agricultural practices into urban spaces, projects such as the Del Aire Fruit Park can catalyse patterns of generosity and fellowship that will endure.
At the heart of the project is a concern with how citizens of cities are becoming alienated from agricultural practices and are losing basic knowledge about plants and how to care for them. Indeed, one of their primary goals is to encourage people to recognise that the fruit grown on trees in urban spaces, which is often left to rot and waste, is a valuable and a free alternative to supermarket fruit. The artists believe that a network of Fruit Parks can circumvent the need for commercialised food distribution and the associated waste and energy consumption by creating free, local food sources.
outcomes & impacts
Cultural and Social
The Fruit Park hinges on the relationship it establishes between urban ecology and social ecology, which creates a rich foundation for a public art projects. As David Burns suggests, by treating urban agricultural practices as a foundation for stronger communal bonds in the urban domain, the artists and their various collaborators “were able to collectively reimagine what a public art project could become.” This meant recognising that a project that could transform a neighbourhood by fostering a spirit of collaboration and sharing is as valuable an artistic asset as “a sculpture or mural that may speak to community and place”. The value of the auxiliary project of encouraging residents to adopt fruit trees and plant them in their streets lies in the fact that it can break down our habits of partitioning public space for certain activities and certain people. This approach also facilitates new patterns of care, so that people might recognise that they can contribute their energy to, take pride in and draw sustenance from areas of urban space that exceed their home territory. David Burns employed the suggestive idea of “co-authorship” in his correspondence with the author, stating that “this expansion of the footprint of the Public Fruit Trees installation created a collaboration with the community in which we co-authored California’s first Public Fruit Park.”
The project provides a glimpse of the potential for a great variety of types of food to be free and widely available if certain collaborative agricultural practices are fostered within cities. This philosophy counteracts the individualisation encouraged by urban environments, and the competitive, mercenary forces that mediate the way food is distributed and consumed. As David Burns states, the fruit park “creates a context of generosity where the city would always take care of you in a basic way by offering organic produce without money being exchanged.” This project has the potential to be replicated anywhere, and thus it opens up the possibility of transforming urban spaces piece by piece, with relatively small expenditure and maintenance. The project has also galvanised the artists to advocate for the introduction of fruit trees to the inventory of official city trees that are permitted, by government policy, to be planted in public space. The Fruit Park may also have inspired Mark Ridley-Thomas, Supervisor of the Second District in Los Angeles County, to pursue the idea of creating community gardens throughout his jurisdiction.
Fallen Fruit had been trying to create a Fruit Park since 2005, so the idea had a long gestation period. The project was commissioned by the Los Angeles County Arts Commission, which manages a percent-for-art program, so that one per cent of the funding for every construction project within the County is allocated to civic art. Letitia Ivins and Laura Zucker from the Los Angeles County Arts Commission were strong advocates of the Fruit Park and Ivins particularly took responsibility for addressing some of the environmental health concerns that were potentially an impediment to the project. David Burns noted in his interview with the author that agreement around the number of trees planted and the location of the installation depended upon patient and respectful negotiations between all parties, but that ultimately the “visionary” project leadership helped to create consensus about the civic value of the project as a piece of public art.
Fallen Fruit undertook a residency at the Del Aire Park between Summer 2011 and January 2013, which was associated with a major renovation of the Del Aire Park and community centre as a whole. The concept was introduced to the Del Aire community at a town hall meeting, where Fallen Fruit spoke about their previous projects in cities both in the US and overseas, and outlined their vision for the Del Aire neighbourhood. A fruit tree adoption event took place on February 2, 2012. Over 60 fruit trees were distributed to residents to plant in public thoroughfares such as on the edge of footpaths near their home. David Burns states that this adoption program was extremely successful in helping residents understand Fallen Fruit’s “intentions of erasing the boundary of the park property by inviting the residents to replant their own streets with additional Public Fruit Trees.” On 5 August 2012 the artists hosted a ‘public fruit jam’ in Del Aire. Fallen Fruit have staged public fruit jams in a variety of locations since 2006. They involve the collective production of numerous varieties of jam, by participants who bring along fruit—often home grown or picked from public spaces—to cook with. Like the tree adoption program, the fruit jam provided another opportunity to develop the spirit of collaboration upon which the establishment of the Fruit Park itself depended. On 17 November the fruit trees were planted with the involvement of Del Aire residents, Los Angeles County staff and volunteers. The Park was officially dedicated on 5 January 2013.
The Department of Parks and Recreation have agreed to take responsibility for the minimal maintenance required by the park (tree pruning for example). Staff at the Da Vinci Design Charter High School, which occupies a neighbouring block, have conveyed their wish that students at the school contribute to the care of the fruit trees.
Burns, David. Interview by author, March 13, 2013.
Burns, David, Matias Viegener and Austin Young. “Del Aire Public Fruit Park.” Fallen Fruit Facebook, entry posted February 14, 2012. http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10150558348073843.388042.12466118842&type=3 (accessed May 27, 2013).
Grossberg, Josh. “Public Fruit Garden Opens at Del Aire Park.” Dailybreeze.com, entry posted May 1, 2013. http://www.dailybreeze.com/news/ci_22318307/public-fruit-garden-opens-at-del-aire-park (accessed May 27, 2013).
Owen Driggs, Janet. “Fallen Fruit and the ‘Thin End of the Wedge’.” KCet: Artbound, entry posted April 2, 2013. http://www.kcet.org/arts/artbound/counties/los-angeles/del-aire-fruit-park.html (accessed May 27, 2013).
Parks and Recreation, County of Los Angeles. “Park to Playa Project Moving Forward.” Supervisor Mark Ridley Thomas, LA County Second District: Environment, entry posted May 24, 2013. http://ridley-thomas.lacounty.gov/Environment/index.php/category/parks-recreation/ (accessed May 27, 2013).
Parks and Recreation, County of Los Angeles. “Unique Urban Orchard and Civic Art Project takes Root in Del Aire.” Supervisor Mark Ridley Thomas, LA County Second District: Accomplishments, entry posted December 3, 2012. http://ridley-thomas.lacounty.gov/index.php/urban-orchard-in-del-aire/ (accessed April 22, 2013).