By Sean Lords
When I thought of urban agricultural hubs, Los Angeles used to be one of the last cities that came to mind. It was easy to imagine compost and backyard chickens in Boise or even Madison, but it wasn’t until I heard about the farms that were reinvigorating Detroit that I thought to look into what small-scale agriculture has been doing for Los Angeles. As it turns out, LA is home to a robust agricultural culture. In addition to other due attention, Farmscape’s Dan Allen has dubbed Los Angeles the “Urban Farming Capital of the US.” While events such as Farm to Fork draw attention to our local food economy, the following farms certainly deserve our time and attention.
The Farm: Not only is Farmscape the “largest urban farming venture in Los Angeles,” they work to make the most of LA’s ideal climate by helping individuals, schools, and businesses set up their own urban gardens and orchards. Farmscape’s aim is not just to garden more land, but also to shift the conversation to one that frames gardening and human-scale farming as politically important as well as a viable food source. In order to do this, Farmscape ran for mayor as a write-in candidate, which brought national buzz from USA Today and Good to this 12-employee business. Farmscape’s seven farmers are paid a living wage and are given benefits, and maintain 150 of the over 300 innovative gardens this business has installed. While it’s nearly impossible to escape Farmscape in the media landscape, it’s more difficult to determine which plots around LA they physically maintain. However, due to the publicity surrounding the fact that it’s illegal to plant parkway gardens, it’s easy to appreciate Farmscape’s—and Abbie Zands’, the Los Feliz resident who has become the face of the parkway garden fight—work on Ambrose Avenue. Thankfully, as of August 13th, the LA city council voted to suspend laws against these gardens.
How to Get Involved: Hire them! For consultation and project that generally involves 2+ beds, it will run you a little over $3,000 well-spent dollars (and about $65/week if you want them to maintain it). If you’re looking to participate in the actual construction and maintenance, LA Green Grounds spearheads similar, volunteer-based projects in low income areas.
Silver Lake Farms
The Farm: Tara Kolla farms flowers and food on less than an acre in the Silverlake and Glassel Park neighborhoods. She, too, fought against a city ordinance that scaled down her business in 2009. Before the Food and Flowers Freedom Act went into effect, it was legal to grow vegetables to sell on residential property, but not flowers or fruit. In order to make ends meet, Kolla expanded her food CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), which offers a weekly share of food to subscribers who pay for the season in advance. Now, Kolla is back to growing pesticide-free bouquets in addition to running a multi-farm CSA. While she has one employee, she also hosts volunteers from WWOOF (Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms), an organization that helps place potential organic farm volunteers with organic farms all over the world.
How to Get Involved: In the past, Silver Lake Farms has offered a Fieldwork for Food program that allows volunteers to cash in hours for a CSA share. To see how you can get involved this season, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, you could purchase a CSA share with a minimum of a 12-week commitment (which is short, for those who are new to Community Supported Agriculture). A “studio share” costs $20/week, while a “family share” will run you $30/week. Kolla also sells flowers at farmers’ markets.
The Farm: Once upon a time, the South Central Farmers’ Cooperative ran a massive (14 acre!) community garden in South Central Los Angeles at 41st and Alameda. In 2006, the landowner violently evicted the corn, tomatoes, soil life, and gardeners with a bulldozer and the promise of commercial development. The land remains empty, and the cooperative still fights for the right to farm within a community that sometimes has trouble putting food on the table. Though unable to farm in South Central, the Cooperative now cares for about 85 acres in Buttonwillow, CA, and delivers CSA shares offered on a sliding scale to low-income areas in Los Angeles. They also advocate healthy lifestyles and promote community gardens that are well outside of Farmscape’s service area. The Cooperative also runs the South Central Farmers Health and Education Fund, which was recently awarded a Growing Green award from the Natural Resources Defense Council.
How to Get Involved: The SCFC has a CSA that you can order online! They have a number of drop-off points throughout the city, and their box prices range from $20-$40. When you opt for the $40 option, you are donating a box to a family in need. SCFC accepts donations for the cause, and has information about advocacy on their website.
The Farm: Edendale Farm is located in the Silver Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles at 2131 Moreno Drive. Founded by David Kahn, they grow fish, chickens, ducks, and pigeons and are a certified wildlife habitat. Their birds are some of the only ones that get to roam the range in LA, and produce exceptionally delicious eggs! Edendale also occasionally holds classes, which have been more difficult to pin down this season. In the past, they’ve taught urban agriculture enthusiasts about everything from cooking to permaculture. Edendale is open to both volunteers and interns, and can be contacted by calling (323) 454-EGGS (3447).
How to Get Involved: As I mentioned before, Edendale has an internship program, which in my humble opinion is the best way to learn how to operate a human-scale urban farm. The application can be found on their website. Also, they sell eggs! Give them a call at the number above for more information.
These four farms are only a small sampling of the urban agricultural opportunities available in Los Angeles. Curbed recently drew attention to a map that UCLA students created that displays Los Angeles County’s 1,261 “verified agricultural sites.” From Farmscape to the South Central Farmers’ Cooperative, LA’s farmers work hard to open the food movement to everyone.
Sean Lords spent three years teaching English in Seoul, South Korea. Since returning to the US, he advises and offers insight for those considering tesol certification in Los Angeles, all while raising a family and working on his Master of Education.