- Author: Rachel A. Surls
UC Cooperative Extension in Los Angeles recently hosted a meeting and farm tour for Will Allen, Founder and CEO of Growing Power, a nonprofit based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, viewed by many as the premier urban agriculture organization in the U.S. A farmer of more than 30 years, teacher, and community activist, Allen has been the recipient of numerous local, state, and national awards, including a 2008 MacArthur Foundation Genius Award. In 2012, he was invited to the White House to join First Lady Michelle Obama in launching “Let’s Move!” her signature leadership program to reverse the epidemic of childhood obesity in America. His autobiography, The Good Food Revolution, was published by Gotham Books in 2012.
Allen visited Los Angeles in July in his role as co-principal investigator for the Community and Regional Food System (CRFS) Project, a 5-year nationwide study funded by the USDA Agriculture and Food Research Initiative. In partnership with University of Wisconsin researchers, Allen is studying food systems in seven U.S. cities, including Los Angeles. As part of his week-long Los Angeles visit, Allen dedicated two days to meeting with members of a UC ANR project team conducting a statewide study on urban agriculture, along with UCCE-Los Angeles staff and local partners.
He shared information about Growing Power’s urban agriculture enterprises, emphasizing the importance of soil building and composting to Growing Power's success in developing farms in Milwaukee, Chicago, and other cities in the Midwest. UCLA Urban Planning graduate students gave a special preview of their recently completed study on the state of urban agriculture in Los Angeles. Allen engaged in a dialogue with participants about how UC ANR staff and partners can best help inform and facilitate the urban agriculture movement in Los Angeles and around California.
Visits to five urban and suburban farms were a highlight of the two-day event, including:
The Community Services Unlimited (CSU) Expo Farm.
Located in South Los Angeles, Community Services Unlimited operates several “urban-mini farms” with the help of youth apprentices. Fruits and vegetables from their farms, aggregated with produce from other growers, are sold in the community through a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) project and a weekly farm stand.
This seven-acre farm, located at a Los Angeles County public housing site in Long Beach, includes fruit and vegetable production, a CSA, and a weekly onsite farmers market. The farm also produces fish, using Growing Power’s aquaponics model.
Silver Lake Farms is a for-profit urban farm near downtown Los Angeles that specializes in fresh cut flowers. Additionally, the owner operates a multi-farm CSA that aggregates produce from local farms, including her own, into weekly CSA boxes. Flowers are sold at the weekly Hollywood Farmers Market.
Located an hour from downtown Los Angeles in suburban Ventura County, this certified organic, fifth-generation family farm serves farmers market customers, restaurants and CSA participants in Ventura and Los Angeles.
The Abundant Table, a faith-based nonprofit organization, produces fruits and vegetables for the Ventura Unified School District’s Farm to School Program, as well as offers a CSA. They lease farmland at the UC Hansen Research and Extension Center in Santa Paula, and partner with the center to provide agricultural education for school children in Ventura.
Farm visits included in-depth discussions with growers and opportunities for the participants to learn and ask questions about diverse issues that ranged from production challenges, to marketing strategies, to zoning and policy issues impacting urban farms. In addition to UCANR and UCCE staff members, participants included members of the Los Angeles Food Policy Council, the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles, and the Ventura Unified School District, as well as students and researchers from UCLA's Department of Urban Planning, the UC Davis Department of Environmental Design, and the Community and Regional Food System Project at University of Wisconsin-Madison.