Huerta del Valle Community Garden Launches Campaign to Fund Construction of Educational Center

Press Release 01/02/2016

Contact: Kirill Volchinskiy – volchinskiy [at]

Hana Lemseffer, Necils Lopez, Kirill Volchinskiy

For immediate release:

Students design passive, sustainable education center for community garden out of recycled materials

Three students from Cal Poly Pomona’s architecture department have been working for more than a year on a the design of an educational center for the Huerta del Valle Community Garden. A crowdfunding campaign has been launched in order to raise funds for the engineering of the library and cover the construction budget for the kitchen/playhouse structure. The remaining two structures have already been submitted to the city and are in the revision stage; we are expecting construction permits for those in the spring of 2016.


Each structure in the educational center exhibits a different set of sustainable strategies, setting a precedent for ecological architecture in the greater LA area both in terms of passive design and building from recycled materials. The two enclosed buildings are passively heated and cooled, without the use of additional energy. The whole complex will have a net-zero carbon footprint. The educational center will be built out of rammed earth, two recycled shipping containers, tires otherwise headed for the landfill, and a large solar array. The construction of the educational center will expand the garden’s mission, creating a vibrant space with a capacity for further community action and analysis.

Radically sustainable architecture is an important asset for environmentalism and resource conservation, as 40% of all energy is consumed by buildings in the US. In this project, however, the story starts from the base: a community garden. What is its importance? Community gardens solve environmental justice issues prevalent in disadvantaged American suburbs. They give people the option of eating organic and sustainably-grown produce, reducing pollution and obesity. This community lives in one of the most polluted areas in California according to CalEnviroscreen data (91761). Low-income families in areas like this rely primarily on fast-food and produce grown with pesticides. Gardens like this help communities increase their self-reliance and boost their health. The community already has numerous educational programs in place, from a literacy program for local kids to ecological awareness programs for adults and youth, but no place to hold these.

Building a permanent, public safe-space for the community to organize and come together inspires them to expand their programs and create more community gardens throughout the industrial wasteland of Los Angeles. People find value in producing and calling something their own. Gardens like this provide people with this opportunity. This reinforces the local economy, and has positive ramifications across a wide range of issues.

Our hope is to set a precedent for other communities and make the dream of a community garden every mile a reality.

The Engineers Without Borders team of UCSD (Ashwin Kannan, Ali Ismail, Jackie First) and Fariborz Tehrani are leading the complementary engineering effort for the kitchen playhouse as well as other engineering requirements.

video download

high-resolution images download

Wednesday December 23rd 2015

Yesterday we finally finished the video kickstarter! After about 4 months of intermittent work (we worked on the kickstarter whenever we weren’t working on the construction drawings), it is finally done. We have set the launch date for January 2nd. If the funding is successful, we will be able to move forward with the engineering of the library and have the funds to build the kitchen+clubhouse structure! Right now we are preparing with outreach before the launch date to coordinate with people who can share this campaign.


In other news we also completed the architectural revisions for the shade structure drawings. Currently we are awaiting a topographical survey of the site and the grading plan for a submission of the amphitheater and shade structure in early January. This time around it should pass as we received rich feedback and completed the requested changes. The goal is to have the shade structure and amphitheater permitted during the spring and the library as well as the shipping+clubhouse to be permitted early summer. Construction would ideally take place during the summer.




Friday – December 11th 2015

It’s Kirill again. This year, Hana and I are studying abroad in Denmark for a year, our 4th year at Cal Poly Pomona B.Arch program. Necils is in Pomona in his 4th year also. Tom transferred schools to SF state last admission cycle and now studies environmental science.

Right before leaving to Denmark, we got the amphitheater plans back from the building dept. They passed the planning dept. review, but got handed back to us with a fair amount of comments from the building department.

Immediately after getting to Denmark, I started working on the kickstarter campaign to raise funds for the engineering and construction of the shipping container structure. This prompted me to draw a lot of schematic drawings explaining the project and the design decisions, which I am thankful to have now.

Soon after, the Engineers without Borders UCSD chapter responded to an application we submitted with the help of Arturo more than a year ago. We finally got in touch with them, and the engineers without borders are going to undertake the engineering of the shipping container structure. The team is composed of UCSD students Ali Ismail, Jackie First, and Ashwin Kannan guided by professor Fariborz Tehrani from CSU Fullerton.

engineers without borders

The team agreed to draw the grading plan, and the electrical plan for the shade structure so that we can submit the amphitheater as well as the shade structure. At this stage I am almost done with revisions for the shade structure drawings and I’m waiting on a few things from Roger from Precision Structural (framing plan, truss plate details, and solar mounting detail).

While I await the things from Roger, I will throw my time at finishing the kickstarter video (the last thing remaining to be completed) so that we can start fundraising for engineering funds for the engineering of the library. Regarding the library, I got in touch with Brad Mimlitz  from Earth Wall Builders ( who built the rammed earth walls at the Festival of Arts in Laguna. We stumbled across the project the summer leaving to Denmark when celebrating my birthday, and it was the first rammed earth construction we saw in person. The quality was amazing and the wall rivaled concrete in stability. Brad connected us with his engineer, and he gave us a quote for $1000 for the engineering of the structure. We hope to raise sufficient funds in the next couple months for both the construction of the shipping container structure as well as the engineering of the library structure to begin the engineering and final construction documents for the library.



Brad also came to the site, met with Maria, and took a soil sample to sift it and test its compressive strength. He said that the soil had a lot of fine particles, making it problematic to have the same compressive strength as concrete. It looks like an aggregate would need to be used to make the soil stable enough. The color is fantastic though.


Brad Mimlitz

Saturday – April 4th 2015

During week of spring break, we worked intensively for a deadline on Tuesday, March 31st 2015. We had a meeting with Scott Murphy and Karen Thompson of planning, which went smoothly. Maria, Arturo, and the legal team headed by Susan Philips. We talked about our progress on the designs and submitted two structures to the building department — the amphitheater as well as the shade structure meant to carry solar panels. For the shade structure Necils made architectural drawings and we had engineering drawings and structural calcs made by Precision Structural, who charged a minimal price for the engineering. The permitting process for solar turns out to be complex, specifically with DIY solar panels, but we hope to make there DIY solar panels a reality still for the shade structure.


You can access what we submitted to the city here (besides the engineering drawings and calculations for the shade structure):

In addition, we submitted architectural drawings for the amphitheater drawn by Kirill. The planning department said that if we are excavating over 50 cubic yards of soil we will have to get a permit. This should not be an issue however, as we plan to use the excavated soil to create the 2-foot-thick walls of the library designed first by Tom and then re-designed by Hana. We submitted the volume calculations for the permit a day later. We also submitted new master plans, and Hana showed her design for the library for the first time, alongside these renders:


The community brought up the question about having animals on site and what is necessary in terms of legal documents for expanding the community garden to neighbors’ lots. Animals on the site such as chickens and goats are still undecided upon, but the director (Scott) said that due to this project, Ontario is looking at opening a special zoning for community gardens that lift restrictions common for residential lots zoned as R-1 or R-2.




Now we have to wait for comments on the amphitheater as well as shade structure, while talking with engineers about the moment frame for the shipping container structure and foundation/roof framing as well as the load bearing rammed earth walls for the library.

Sunday – February 22nd 2015

We have not written about our progress in a while, because we have been incredibly swamped with school. Over winter break, we didn’t get much of a chance to truly work as a team. I, Kirill, was in San Francisco, Hana was in the LA area as well as Necils, and Tom decided he would not pursue architecture anymore in the Fall, and has now transferred to Humboldt State to pursue Environmental Science.

A lot has happened since the summer however. We had a meeting with Scott, the director of the planning department in Ontario. It went incredibly well and we got the go-ahead to submit our plans. I further designed the shade structure of Winter break and detailed the design and submitted preliminary drawings to Nabil Taha’s firm, Precision Structural Engineering –, for engineering. Roger Ziegler at Precision Structural is taking care of the engineering of the shade structure. Hana is currently developing the design of the Library Building and is almost complete with it.

HdV is also pursuing a partnership with the nearby Church in order to use the vacant lot north of the current site and make a prayer/relaxation area for the church, garden-style.

Here are the latest master-plans:





precision structural engineering community garden shade structure

Monday — September 8th 2014

Today was a workshop day! Unfortunately Kirill, Necils and Tom couldn’t make it to this meeting. Kirill was still in San Francisco and Necils and Tom had to go to work. For the past week Necils and I tried various ways (lots of trial and errors) to cut glass bottles. We tried lighting a string on fire with acetone and a flame and dunking it into ice cold water; that didn’t work. We tried scoring the glass bottle with solely a glass cutter tool and our hands, which came out wobbly. Scoring took about 30 minutes by hand, and then we tried putting a flame along the scoreline and then running cold water over it. We also tried dunking a heated and scored bottle in the pool a few times. All our trials came to broken glasses that shattered discontinuously around the scoreline. Necils however had some success after many tries of patiently scoring and lighting then cooling. Later on, I decided to watch a few more videos on youtube to see if there were any more ways to cut the glass without an expensive machine or too much effort (that would probably discourage the community). I luckily found one that showed a simple machine this man made by simply putting wood together and drilling in his glass cutter utensil into the wood so that when he rolled the bottle, the perfect amount of force and pressure were applied to the bottle and the anticipated scoreline. I attempted to make my own device. With the help of gorilla glue and epoxy I was able to glue some left over pieces of wood together. I then added the glass cutter utensil to the equation. I let go of my fears and decided to epoxy the $2 glass cutter into the mix, and waited an hour for that to dry. Then, the moment of truth came upon me: I put a clear glass bottle down and rotated it. To my surprise and joy, the bottle scored pretty well and when I went to test how it would break, it was a complete success. The method I tried was simply scoring it, then pouring very hot water over the score, then cold water, then hot water, then cold water again until it broke or until I felt confident enough to pop it off. It was magic. I felt like I was doing a little experiment. Needless to say, science is pretty cool. On Monday, I did a small demonstration and Arturo translated my explanation of the process and how easy it was to do it. Everyone understood and I got a lot of positive feedback. The community was very impressed and they found it to be creative. It was a successful day.



Sunday – September 25th 2014

Unfortunately today we were unable to attend the community meeting, because we were working on creating the shading structure for the amphitheater. We concluded that traditional shade-sails do not provide enough shade during summer months and due to this a dome or part-dome solution was explored such as the bucky ball (geodesic dome). Hana and I composed these two drawings and we are one step closer to presentation renders that we will hopefully bring to the city next week which would aid in illustrating what we aim to achieve.

Check out the recent work:


Sunday – August 17th 2014

This is a post about researching DIY solar panels from second-grade solar cells and the requirements and costs of building a system to power an average home. Our hope is that this research will enable us to eventually construct an off-the grid solar array for the community garden.

All members of this team live in the same house; it is a house in Pomona with 4 bedrooms. Having said that, we do our best to minimize energy consumption such as not keeping the lights on when possible, and using only one CFL bulb per chandelier. We do, however, use a refrigerator which is old, we run the dishwasher as well as the laundry machine. I have a powerful computer with a large display, and everyone else at the house uses laptops. We do not run the air conditioning. Our energy comes out to 459kwh and roughly $80 for the month of July.



When I first started dabbling in this, I had a hard time digesting the difference between watts, watt-hours and only a rough idea of what volts and amps were. Let’s jump to the completed solar panels to understand amps and volts first, which will then bring us a better understanding of watts, watt-hours, and energy in general.

The old analogy that people use when explaining electricity is to imagine water spinning a large wheel. Sort of like the image on the right. The wheel requires a certain amount of power for it to move, and the power in this situation is supplied by water. One can increase the power with which the water hits the wheel in two ways; one can just spill a lot of water onto the wheel, or one could hook up a garden hose with a lot of pressure to spin the wheel. waterAlthough the garden hose would use less water, because of the pressure which propels the water to hit the wheel harder, it would have a similar effect as a large bucket of water spilled onto the wheel at no pressure at all.




Electricity works in a similar way. Volts are a measurement of pressure, or the strength of the current, while amps (amperes) are the measurement of the flow of the current, or the amount of water which is being spilled on the wheel. More specifically, volts are a measurement of electric potential energy between the plus and the minus. Amperage on the other hand, is literally the measurement of the amount of electrons passing through the wire. To recap– volts are the strength or the energy of the electricity, while amps are how much electricity is passing through. Watts are simply the power and can be figured out by multiplying the ampers by the volts. It makes sense — you can get the same amount of power by using a lot of electrons with little energy, or you could use a few electrons with a lot of energy. This is exactly like the water analogy– you can get the wheel to spin at the same speed by using a lot of water with little pressure, or a little water but under very high pressure.


The way this analogy is different, however, is that electric companies only care about the amount of power you use, the watts, not how many amperes vs volts you are using, because in US homes, the voltage remains a constant 120v. And with electricity, you basically won’t use more resources if you were to use a lot of electricity (current) at a low voltage, as you would if you used a lot of water with no pressure.


Back to the solar panels though. Here is a picture of a solar panel we put together at two different times of the day, at noon and at 6pm.


At noon, the solar panel produced 3.49Amps at 6.30Volts and at 6pm, the same solar panel produced 1.05Amps at 6.40Volts. So since power, or watts, is volts times amps, during noon, the panel was making 22Watts and at 6pm, since the sun was setting, it was only making 6.72 watts. Let’s say that the sun is up for 10 hours and take the average of what the solar panel produces, 14.36watts. Since the solar panel produces 14.36Watts for 10 hours, this means that it produces roughly 140Watt-hours, or .14kWh a day.

Knowing that during one month we used 459kWh or kilo-watt-hours, we know that in an average day, we use 15.3kWh. 15.3kWh divided by .14kWh (what our panel produces) gives us 109. This means that we will need 109 solar panels like the one we built to continuously power our house. You might wonder, what is that in terms of money?

For constructing this solar panel, we used class B solar cells. Class A cells are perfect–there is nothing wrong with them. Class B cells have slight things wrong with them, such as the wrong thickness at times, some of them are a little bit chipped off on the ends etc. The broken cells you see in our solar panel are our fault as they got broken in the process of putting the panel together. Class B cells are pretty much near perfect, but aren’t fit for use in the company. They do, however, produce the same amount of voltage and current, maybe only a tiny bit less. Class C cells are mostly whole cells with significant parts missing while class D cells are just pieces. I was able to purchase 4 packs of B cells at 43 a pack, or 172 cells, for 65 dollars on amazonsolar panels diy huerta ontario communtiy garden. This comes out to 37 cents a cell. Since we are going to be needing 109 solar panels at 12 cells each to just barely cover the needs of the house, this means that we need 1308 solar cells in total. At 37 cents a cell, 1308 of these cells will come out to be $480 dollars in solar cells alone to run the house. This is provided you do the labor yourself and the price of wire, time, enclosing materials, batteries, inverters, and other electronics is not included. But for 1,500 dollars, you can definitely make a solar system (everything included) that can power a medium-size house, with 4 inhabitants for a very long time! A company would charge more than $15,000 for a solar panel system that produced the same 15kWh a day.


You might wonder what the environmental impacts of solar energy are. It is true that it takes energy to manufacture the cells, but it is common sense that this is better than burning gas or coal straight up in order to heat water which spins a generator to make electricity. In addition, solar power can make an off-grid electric-powered home possible. This is beneficial in that people using such a house understand exactly how much energy they are using, making resource-use much more personal, pushing people to conserve energy.



Here is a quote from the Union of Concerned Scientists on the comparison between gas, coal, and solar energy:

“While there are no global warming emissions associated with generating electricity from solar energy, there are emissions associated with other stages of the solar life-cycle, including manufacturing, materials transportation, installation, maintenance, and decommissioning and dismantlement. Most estimates of life-cycle emissions for photovoltaic systems are between 0.07 and 0.18 pounds of carbon dioxide equivalent per kilowatt-hour.  Most estimates for concentrating solar power range from 0.08 to 0.2 pounds of carbon dioxide equivalent per kilowatt-hour. In both cases, this is far less than the lifecycle emission rates for natural gas (0.6-2 lbs of CO2E/kWh) and coal (1.4-3.6 lbs of CO2E/kWh).”

We will be explaining how to hook up and connect solar panels in a future post.


Monday – August 11th 2014

Necils and I were the only ones who were able to attend this meeting; Tom had work and Hana was in Morocco, working diligently and being frustrated with rhino (the software we use), while making great progress on a section perspective of the amphitheater.


We arrived at the meeting which turned out to be a workday. The number of people who showed up was large. Mari helped tape the drawing down to a board on the ground, and members of the community looked at it and asked questions as they passed by. The community loved Tom’s design of the library and the idea of rammed earth and thermal mass, specifically how rammed earth absorbs energy during the day, and gives it off during the night. It also cools during the night, and remains cool throughout the day. Arturo was excited because he thought it was the perfect temperature to store seeds for the garden as well.



Here is some of the work we presented:

The images in full resolution can be found here



The day was filled with parkour; kids were jumping from compost pile to compost pile, seeing how quickly they could navigate all of the obstacles. Maria cooked black beans and made pico-de-gallo, which tasted great on corn tortillas. As the sun set, we asked Arturo and Maria to talk about the designs with the community, and we left the drawing taped to the board. We hoped that this would allow everyone to familiarize themselves with the design and for us to receive more critique next week and finalize the design, as we will be nearing the stage of starting on the construction documents and structural calculations. After the sun set, we took off for an hour long bike ride to get back home.


Monday – August 5th 2014

Sadly Hana was unable to join us today as she  is in Morocco for 2 weeks!



We were preparing to present our latest iteration of designs to the community at Huerta del Valle, but Arturo called and said we need to acquire a trailer in order to transport a tractor to the community garden. A tractor is indispensable for a community garden as it makes the transportation of soil much easier as well as the tiling of the soil. Additionally, it can be used in the construction of the amphitheater or any other tire-structure. We have been attempting to secure it for over a month now, but finally there was hope in getting it. Generally, it will be used heavily we think.


Here are the latest designs, although we only were able to present them to Arturo:


We arrived to the ranch at sunset and began loading the tractor. Using a set of chains and ropes, the men were able to secure the tractor to the uhaul trailer, which was never meant to carry a tractor. By using a dummy car, we were able to rent the trailer, saying that we were going to tow another car. The ranch where the tractor was located had animals, including baby goats and horses. Supposedly the land which the ranch uses to graze the horses is unincorporated, so people use it with little restriction.


Also, the solar cells just arrived for an experiment to see if we could build solar panels for little cost alongside a charging system for the electricity the community needs in the next couple of weeks.