Can a state park turn urbanites into healthy, gardening locavores? A new eco-foodie experiment of sorts aims to find out. Last Saturday, a new green organic cafe called On Spring celebrated its grand opening — in Los Angeles State Historic Park.

Many L.A. food spots now use local produce in their dishes, but On Spring is the only one that has specifically contracted with the state to make locavoring easy on a state park. Now, Angelenos can go for a stroll in the park — then enjoy fair trade, organic coffee, healthy soups, and fresh salads and sandwiches made with produce grown within a 200-mile radius.

On Spring organic cafe in LosAngeles State Historic Park

This isn’t the Los Angeles State Historic Park’s first foray into local food. Back in 2005 — when the park was still a “fallow, desolate lot,” as Sean Woods, superintendent for the Los Angeles sector of California State Park, describes it — artist Lauren Bon planted corn in the 32-acre park to create a growing, interactive urban sculpture dubbed Not a Cornfield.

That corn has long been harvested, but the food revolution continues at Los Angeles State Historic Park. After all, the state park system is already working on healthy living initiatives that tackle issues like childhood obesity. “Why not have a food service facility that melds with that philosophy?” asks Woods, who says On Spring is a “logical progression” of the state parks’ initiatives.

The seed of an idea for On Spring started sprouting about five years ago, when Woods tasted some delicious eats cooked up by Rickey Smith (below, in the park at On Spring’s opening), whose eco-minded company Urban Green catered a lunch for a Los Angeles City Planning meeting. The two men met — and Rickey shared his ideas about food and social activism. Two years went by, then Rickey got an unexpected call from Woods about putting ideas into action. At that point, plans for On Spring began in earnest.

Rickey Smith of Urban Green

If you frequent L.A.-area farmers markets, you’re likely already familiar with Urban Green and Rickey, the man behind this green enterprise. A self-described army brat, Rickey says he grew up money-poor but garden-rich, enjoying home-grown snow peas, okra, and other healthy veggies once his family settled in rural Tennessee. He moved to Los Angeles in 1991, and after getting laid off after the dot com boom, he used the $36 left to his name to start making organic pecan tarts. Those tarts were served at dinner parties, which quickly grew from five to 75 guests — and Rickey’s small cooking venture turned into Urban Green, a self-described “triple bottom-line lifestyle company” with farmers market booths, an artisan line of organic eats, catering business, and now, On Spring.

Rickey’s plans for On Spring and Urban Green emphasize uber-local food. Soon, the planters at On Spring will be growing organic tomatoes, collards and kale. And with Urban Green — which has a nonprofit arm called Urban Green Group Foundation — Rickey hopes to get short-term leases for unused urban spaces and grow gardens — giving Angelenos fresh, healthy produce as well as food security and independence. “This is my initiative to try to expose small-scale urban farms to downtown Angelenos,” says Rickey. “We need to come up with a solution of our own in the city.”

Longer-term plans include making Monday a “day of service” at On Spring, when anyone who’s hungry will be able to come by to eat healthy, local fare for free. And On Spring’s plans go beyond food. Rickey has plans for public permaculture workshops, yoga classes in English and Spanish, and maybe even a small bicycle co-op.

For now, stop by On Spring to enjoy great eats on the go in a pretty state park. (menu here). I recommend the vegan grilled portobello mushroom sandwich — a delicious mix of flavorful, fresh veggies and juicy portobello mushroom slices on a chewy ciabatta bun from L.A. bakery Europane.

grilled portobello mushroomsandwich from On Spring

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