Silver Lake apartment garden brings COVID-19 relief

When Jamie Renee Williams wanted to learn more about soil and permaculture, she volunteered at several urban farms throughout Los Angeles: Cottonwood Urban Farm in Panorama City, Huarache Farms in Sierra Madre and Farm L.A., located in Elysian Valley. When she wanted to implement what she was learning in the community, she began working with a community-led compost pick-up service to expand its reach. And when the coronavirus outbreak forced her to shelter in place, she transformed a tiny stretch of dirt next to her apartment into an edible garden.

“I thought for many years that it would be amazing to work on restoring it in some way,” Williams, 37, said of the garden in Silver Lake that she planted in March. “I had been reading books on permaculture such as “The One-Straw Revolution: An Introduction to Natural Farming,” and when I started going to a bunch of different farms they were all doing something different. I was afraid of growing food. I have killed plenty of plants. But the pandemic and quarantine pushed me to do it. I figured I have all this time and nothing to lose.”

Before the pandemic, Williams juggled UX design work, volunteering and helping broaden the Compostable pickup service. But with more free time on her hands — and like so many who have struggled with isolation while sheltering in place — the garden offered her an opportunity to navigate her way through the pandemic.

“I felt like I had a partner through this pandemic,” she said. “It’s been really rewarding. I have learned that plants, like people, need to be together in a community.”

For Williams, who will be offering a guided virtual tour of the garden on Thursday as part of this week’s annual LA Design Festival, the garden is “reclaimed space for everyone.”

“Jamie embodies that special something that makes L.A. so interesting,” said festival director Haily Zaki. “She’s a creative multi-hyphenate doing her own unique thing, her way, that kind of cannot be defined in any sort of cut and dry way, kind of like L.A.”

We spoke with Williams about the value of gardening and composting and issues of food waste. She also touches on how gardening, and being outdoors, has helped her to better understand the world in the wake of the killing of George Floyd in May.

 Jamie Williams searches for bush beans in her tiny  garden next to her apartment complex.

Jamie Renee Williams searches for bush beans in the tiny garden next to her apartment complex.

(Dania Maxwell/Los Angeles Times)

You do a lot of different things. How would you describe yourself?

To be completely honest, I have an aversion to labels. I am curious. I follow things that energize me. I like to try and learn new things. That’s my guiding philosophy. It has brought so many interesting things into my perspective. It’s probably because my childhood was very unusual.

How so?

I was born in the United States but my father was in the military so we traveled a lot. I lived in Japan from the ages of

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