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).
An urban farming project in West Sacramento, California, aims to fill the area’s food deserts with fresh produce and create new farmers in the process.
Founded in 2014, the West Sacramento Urban Farm Program is an initiative of the agricultural education nonprofit Center for Land-Based Learning, headquartered in Winters, California. The program converts vacant lots in urban West Sacramento neighborhoods to increase food access, and support production of fresh fruits and vegetables.
“We’re growing about 25,000 to 30,000 pounds of produce a month, so it’s definitely a significant amount of produce that all stays within West Sacramento for the most part,” program founder Sara Bernal says.
A mutual passion for gardening and supporting underserved communities were the motivations behind the conception of Farm LA, a Los Angeles-based non-profit organization geared toward converting dilapidated and underutilized parcels of land for urban farming.
Emily Gleicher, a freelance producer for design and animation projects, and Jason Wood, a former commercial diver who now works as an electrician and framer in construction, founded Farm LA after a non-traditional gift sparked their interests.
“For Valentine’s Day, Jay found these lima bean plants at CVS that sprout out and say ‘I Love You,’” says Gleicher. “We had already become very passionate about gardening… so the lima beans took off, and we all of a sudden had lima bean plants all over our house. That is where our love for gardening and lima beans started.”Soon after, the young couple started looking at properties around Los Angeles for fun in the event they decided to build a small house somewhere.
On Nov. 10-11 hundreds of attendees from across Southern California and beyond showed up for the inaugural Grow Local OC Conference: The Future of Urban Food Systems held Nov. 10-11 in Orange County, CA at California State University, Fullerton to learn more about the community and economic development potential of fostering local food systems in cities.
The conference attendees were treated to lectures from the foremost urban farming experts, entrepreneurs, and community advocates in the sustainable and local food system space. Topics explored by the speakers and panelists included the role that food plays in bridging the rural urban divide,
In Los Angeles, CA, community members involved in the urban farming and food justice movements are keenly aware of the food insecurity that is so prevalent in its South Los Angeles neighborhoods. It was this insufficient access to healthy, nutritious food that spurred Florence Nishida to co-found LA Green Grounds, a volunteer organization that works with residents of South L.A. to convert their front lawns and parkways into edible landscapes and urban farms.
“If you have a garden in the front yard it leads to conversation, and that’s the most important thing,” says Nishida. “The minute you start growing squash, tomatoes, or something people have never seen before, they start asking questions, and that starts the conversation. Those conversations lead to a sense of community.”
Making vegetables a visible part of the community is what has guided LA Green Grounds ever since its founding in 2010.
When it comes to Controlled Environment Agriculture [CEA], Valerie Loew wants the U.S. to catch up with Europe and China before it’s too late.
“The rest of the world is so far ahead of us, because they are so limited with their own resources,” says Loew, who is professor and horticulture department head at Fullerton College in Southern California. “They are taking advantage of this technology way before us because we have sunshine and we have water; but we really don’t. Between Europe and China, the amount of greenhouses they have is just off the charts. We need to start catching up.”