On Friday, January 27, Seedstock hosted the inaugural ‘Future of Food – Urban Ag Field Trip’, which provided attendees an excursion into the diversity of urban farming and state-of-the-art hydroponic, aquaponic and aeroponic agriculture operations in Los Angeles County, the most populous county in the U.S. The sold out tour treated participants to lectures and sessions from pioneering farmers who are embracing innovative business models and growing systems to both increase food security and take advantage of the escalating demand for local food.
The tour kicked off with a stop at The USC Teaching Garden, a joint venture between L.A. Urban Farms and USC Hospitality, which utilizes aeroponic tower gardens to challenge the food systems status quo on campus. The garden was established to supply fresh produce to the university’s on-campus restaurants, dining halls, catering services, and hotel, while also teaching students and staff about flavor and sustainability. Attendees heard from Chef Eric Ernest, Executive Chef of USC Hospitality, discuss the economic viability of the garden. Chef Ernest noted that the garden is not just for show, and that its 90 aeroponic garden towers grow enough food for campus retail units to break even each year. “The garden is about connecting chef and customer,” said Chef Ernest. We also heard from L.A. Urban Farms founder Wendy Coleman, and partner Niels Thorlaksson, discuss the technical details of the farm, its water usage, and maintenance requirements. Thorlaksson explained that each aeroponic garden tower utilizes 5 – 10 gallons of water per week.
SoCal Urban Farming Org Increases Supply of Fresh Produce to Homeless Shelter by Healing Soil and ResidentsJanuary 24, 2017 | Charli Engelhorn
Prior to the establishment of the GrowGood urban farm on a lot across the way from the Salvation Army Bell Shelter located in Bell, CA, the shelter, which serves nearly 6,000 meals per week, incorporated very little fresh produce into its menu.
“They were spending cents per meal on fresh produce. Food was donated, so no one was going hungry; but the nutritional quality was often low,” says Brad Pregerson, co-founder of GrowGood, a CA-based nonprofit that has been working with the shelter since 2011 to develop a garden-based program to not only increase the supply of fresh produce to the shelter, but also to provide its residents with meaningful work and act as catalyst for healing.
The Salvation Army Bell Shelter, which opened in 1988, was established with help from Pregerson’s grandfather, Harry, a federal judge and veteran, who perceived the dire need to provide housing for the growing
“Beyond growing vegetables, beyond growing soil, we’re building community through agriculture,” says Dave Victor of Orchard Gardens Neighborhood Farm and Community Garden. “That’s a big part of the mission, a big part of the vision for the farm. It’s all about providing healthy fresh local food for low income people.”
Dave Victor, after five years honing his growing skills with Garden City Harvest, became the manager of Orchard Gardens Neighborhood Farm just last year and he couldn’t be happier with his new position.
“Just like any sustainable agriculture farmer the focus is on building soil,” says Victor. “I tell people that I’m a vegetable farmer but first and foremost it’s all about growing soil and building that soil ecology.”
When Santa Ana, California pediatrician and Orange County Public Health Officer Eric Handler ran into Mark Lowry of the Orange County Food Bank some years ago, he had two questions for him:
- Do you have enough food in your food bank?
- If we captured all food waste, could we end hunger in Orange County?
Lowry’s answer to the first question was no, and his answer to the second question was yes. This interaction led to the formation of the Waste Not OC Coalition in 2012.
With an overarching goal to eradicate hunger in Orange County, the Waste Not OC Coalition recovers food by connecting restaurants and grocery stores with food recovery agencies. It distributes that food by connecting people in need with food pantries. It also educates donors, recipients and the general public about the importance of food donation and how to safely handle donated food.
On a recent Friday morning, eggs, figs and other vegetables and fruits were being placed on the back of a small truck destined to be sold at a farm stand in the parking lot outside of the Senior housing block in the Carmelitos Public Housing Community in Long Beach, CA. The produce was grown on site at The Growing Experience (TGE), a seven-acre urban farm in North Long Beach that is located on a previously vacant lot that is part of the same housing complex.
The TGE urban farm is unique in that it is owned and operated by the Housing Authority of the County of Los Angeles (HACoLA), which manages 3,229 units of public and other affordable housing for the county’s Public Housing program.
Talking about the homeless population of America is popular these days. And yet fixing the situation seems, to many, an impossibly overwhelming task. Others are proving it’s not. The Santa Cruz Homeless Garden Project (HGP) uses sustainable agriculture as the springboard to a safer, productive and more hopeful life for many. The agriculture and gardening training provided to the homeless of Santa Cruz County through the project has culminated in both jobs and permanent housing for its trainees.
“We find people that express much greater degrees of well being after they are with us for a year, whether it’s in their diet, in their sense of self, in their ability to set goals and achieve them, in how connected they feel to the community,” says Darrie Ganzhorn Executive Director of the Homeless Garden Project.
It is believed to be a world first: a fully functioning greenhouse on wheels that plugs in much like an RV and that could offer up solutions to some of urban farming’s biggest challenges. The mobile greenhouse prototype, which goes by the name GrOwING GREEN, was born of a collaboration between architecture students at Ball State University and Butler University’s Center for Urban Ecology (CUE). It has already been recognized by the American Institute of Architects with a state award for excellence in architecture.
Timothy Gray, a professor of Architecture at Ball State, whose fourth year students designed and constructed the mobile greenhouse, points out that the mobility aspect opens up a world of possibilities, including the idea of bringing the farm to the people. As stated on their website, the prototype, “lends itself to the shifting and temporal nature of the urban farm.”
Urban agriculture ventures of all different stripes – from commercial hydroponic enterprises and rooftop aeroponic farms to community gardens planted atop formerly vacant lots – are not only disrupting the food system, but also generating community and economic capital.
To give you an up close and personal look at a series of innovative urban farming operations that have emerged to tackle challenges to food access, meet marketplace demand for local food, and increase food security, Seedstock has put together the ‘Future of Food – Urban Ag Field Trip’.
Scheduled for Friday, January 27, 2017, the field trip will look at the impact of urban farming in Los Angeles County, the most populous county in the United States, and include lectures on such topics as the past, present, and future of urban agriculture, vertical farming, and sourcing local food from urban farms.
Since University of California Cooperative Extension established the first Master Gardener Programs in the state in 1981, its army of certified volunteer gardeners, who are today spread across more than 50 counties, have supported programs aimed at educating California residents, especially those living in low-income communities, about growing their own food.
In Los Angeles, one such program that Master Gardener Program volunteers supported was the Common Ground Garden Program, which was established in 1976 with funds from a Congressional appropriations bill to support a national Urban Garden Program. Working in collaboration with the Common Ground Garden Program, the Master Gardener volunteers played a pivotal role in helping to set up several community and school gardens across the county.
After funding from the Urban Garden Program ceased, the Los Angeles County branch of the Master Gardener Program formally took over the task of training community gardeners.
In September 2013, California passed Assembly Bill 551 (AB551), Urban Agriculture Incentive Zones (UAIZ), which allows cities and counties within the state to incentivize land owners to donate vacant or undeveloped land for urban agriculture use over a five-year period, according to information from the Los Angeles Department of Regional Planning. Land owners who participate will receive reduced property tax assessments in exchange for this allowance.
The requirements to participate include parcels between 0.10 and 3 acres, a minimum contract of five years, complete use of the land for agriculture purposes, and no prior physical structures existing on the property. Many California communities have already passed or are in the process of approving the ordinance including San Francisco, San Diego, Long Beach, San Jose, and Sacramento; however, only a couple of contracts have been processed in those areas combined.
The ordinance has already passed through Los Angeles County, but this motion only applies to unincorporated areas. The incorporated city of Los Angeles is currently in the process of approving the ordinance, according to Iesha Siler, a policy associate for the Los Angeles Food Policy Council (LAFPC).