Recently, I have been visiting urban farms as part of a research project. It’s been interesting to see that even a tiny piece of land can produce enough for sale. Last week I visited a home where a standard suburban backyard and front yard have been converted into a mini farm producing vegetables, herbs and seedlings. The owners grow enough to sell at two area farmers’ markets each week.
This may be a trend. The Los Angeles County Agricultural Commissioner’s office certifies growers to sell at local farmers’ markets. According to the staff member I spoke with, they have received quite a few calls recently from LA County residents interested in selling at local markets.
At a California Certified Farmers’ Market, everything has been grown on the farm and has been brought to the market by the farmer, their immediate family members, or their employees. An inspection and certification process helps to ensure the integrity of this system.
In order to sell farm products grown in Los Angeles County at a Certified Farmers’ Market, growers must contact the Los Angeles County Agricultural Commissioner’s Office at 562-622-0426. (For those growing in other counties, they would contact their own county agricultural commissioner’s office). An inspector will make an appointment to visit the growing area to find out what and how much the farmer is growing, and how much they project they will have available for sale.
There is a small annual fee for certification. After the inspection, and paying the fee, the farmer receives a Certified Producer’s Certificate to display when selling at a market. Growers can only sell what has been grown on the farm, and specifically, what is on the certificate. New crops can be added by amending the certificate.
Becoming certified to sell at farmers’ markets is relatively simple, but the business of farming is not! Like starting any business, it requires careful research and planning before start-up. For example, farmers need to identify one or more farmers' markets that will be a good match for their operation, working with market managers. Also, many commercial farmers in Los Angeles, even very small growers, will need to join the LA Irrigated Lands Group to ensure compliance with water quality regulations. Many other issues need consideration as well. Some helpful on-line resources for starting a small farm business are available through the UC Small Farm Program.
The best strategy is to do a considerable amount of homework before starting any urban farm venture where sales to the public are involved.
- Author: Judi Gerber
Part Two: Commercial Winemaking Explodes in Los Angeles(1850s – 1860s)
As I wrote in Part 1, Los Angeles attracted wine growers in the early 1830s and 1840s and by the mid-1850s, there were over 100 wineries in the Los Angeles area, with at least seventy-five within the town itself (Carosso, 1951).
In fact, the 1850 United States Census indicates that there were 57,355 gallons of wine produced in Los Angeles County and in 1851 there were 104 vineyards in Los Angeles County (excluding San Gabriel) with all but 20 within the limits of the city of Los Angeles (McGroatry, 1923).
As the area along the Los Angeles River continued to be populated by vineyards and as prime locations on the river began to fill up, settlers looked for other locations.
The east side of the Los Angeles River was the first logical place for them to go. The first foreigner to make a major investment there was Irish-born Andrew A. Boyle, who came to America in 1832, and lived in New Orleans, Texas, San Francisco, and finally, Los Angeles.
In 1858, Boyle bought some land and a vineyard from Jose Rubio who had planted it in 1835 running right along the east side of the Los Angeles River under the bluffs (Historical Society of Southern California, 1901).
The area along the eastern bank of the LA River was known as Paredon Blanco (White Bluffs) and was still within Pueblo boundaries. Today, it is known as Boyle Heights and was actually named after Andrew Boyle. While others thought the land he bought was unsuitable, he built a home there, the first brick house east of the river, and he became the first white man to live east of the LA River in what is known as “the flats.”
He started making wine in 1862, and was the first to grow zinfandel grapes there and started to sell his wine under the Paredon Blanco name. He was also a member of the Los Angeles City Council during the 1860s.
In 1851, another Irish immigrant, Matthew Keller, opened a general merchandise store at the corner of Los Angeles and Commercial Streets. He soon joined Vignes and Wolfskill in growing wine grapes after purchasing property on Alameda and Aliso Street, at present-day Union Station. During the time, they were three of the most successful winemakers.
Keller added hundreds of acres to his land holdings when he bought 13,300 acres of the Rancho Topanga Malibu Sequit above Santa Monica in 1857, which he named the Rising Sun Vineyard.
Like Vignes, he also imported new varieties, and like Vignes, was known as “Don” Mateo (Spanish for Matthew). Present-day Mateo Street is named after him.
Today, there’s also a trail named in honor of Keller’s Winery: the Rising Sun Trail in Solstice Canyon in Santa Monica.
As the county grew and more and more people settled here, vineyards were started in areas east of El Pueblo, especially in present-day San Gabriel Valley. From the 1850s through the 1880s thousands of acres of grapes were planted there.
This included those planted by English immigrant William Workman, and his partner John Rowland, who planted vineyards at their La Puente Ranch in the 1840s and Hugo Reid, a Scotsman, who put in a vineyard in 1839 at his Rancho Santa Anita (today part of the Los Angeles County Arboretum) in present-day San Gabriel Valley and made wine there until he sold the property in 1846.
In 1854, German immigrants Kohler and Frohling established one of California’s largest winemaking businesses. They had a large vineyard in Los Angeles with a main cellar in San Francisco.
Charles Kohler was a violinist who had eventually settled in San Francisco to found the Germania Concert Society. John Frohling was a flutist in that orchestra. Legend has it that they were inspired to start a winery after eating some Los Angeles grapes at a picnic despite having no knowledge of or skills in winemaking.
Aside from their own grapes, they bought those of Keller, Wolfskill, Workman, and Rowland and that’s what allowed them to grow so big and to overtake others in their production. And, they also grew a wide variety of grapes including Riesling, Muscat, Claret, Zinfandel, Burgundy, Sherry, Port and Angelica.
The partners are credited with bringing Los Angeles wines into large-scale commerce. It is estimated that they produced 50,000 to 175,000 gallons of wine per year. Like other influential vintners, today, there’s a street named in downtown Los Angeles for them, Kohler Street.
They took a prize for best wine in 1858 at the State Fair. And they brought in new varieties to Los Angeles, especially those for making port and sherry.
Kohler and Frohling also were the first to make shipments of wine to the east and by 1860, had shipped over $70,000 worth of wine out of California and had offices in New York City and Boston (Pinney, 1989).
The Sainsevain Brothers also began shipping their wines to New York City and in 1861, opened a New York City Branch. In 1857, they were the first California vintners to produce champagne-like sparkling wine.
Word of Los Angeles wines spread in 1852, when Los Angeles wines were tasted in New York at the American Institute. The Sainsevain Brothers received high marks for their white wines labeled under the Aliso label and also for their sparkling wines.
Kohler and Frohling also were responsible for encouraging a group of German and Austrian immigrants from San Francisco to band together and form the Los Angeles Vineyard Society.
In February 1857, the society was created with the purpose of buying, cultivating and eventually living on a parcel of land devoted to viticulture along the Los Angeles River. However, that plan did not work out and since the members were so eager to get going, they settled on property along the Santa Ana River instead, some 20 miles away from Los Angeles, and the Society wound up in Anaheim, planting mostly Mission grapes (Pinney, 1989).
By the end of the 1860s, more and more pueblo land was being cultivated for wine. By 1869, Los Angeles had established itself as California's wine center, and its 43 wineries were producing four million gallons of wine annually (Rasmussen, 2000).
Carosso, Vincent P. (1951) The California Wine Industry: A Study of the Formative Years. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
Historical Society of Southern California, (1901) Los Angeles County Pioneers of Southern California, (volumes 5-6).
Los Angeles Times, L.A. Then and Now; Wine Industry Took Root on Olvera Street, by Cecilia Rasmussen, (May 28, 2000).
McGroarty, John Steven, (1923). History of Los Angeles County, Volume 1. Chicagoe and New York: The American Historical Society.
Pinney, Thomas (1989). A History of Wine in America: From the Beginnings to Prohibition. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Workman, Boyle, (1936). Boyle Workman’s The City That Grew. Los Angeles: Southland Publishing Company
If you follow urban gardening/agriculture issues, you may have heard about a disagreement that’s received quite a bit of attention. Folks are upset with the Dervaes family of Pasadena because they have trademarked the terms “Urban Homestead” and “Urban Homesteading”. This family has operated an impressive mini-farm in their yard for a number of years, and has a website that shares information on how to become self-sufficient by producing food around your home. They have recently sent letters to others who use the terms “Urban Homestead” and “Urban Homesteading” in blogs, on Facebook pages, and even book titles, asking them to remove these terms or provide attribution. This has not been well received, to say the least. The OC Weekly and the LA Times, among others, have covered this issue in detail.
Rather than rehash the debate, I want to share what may be a little known fact; that Los Angeles was home to a movement which was a precursor to present-day interest in urban sustainability.
The trend was called “Small Farm Homes”, or “Little Farms” and gained momentum in the 1920s, then continued full-force for several decades. As the population of Los Angeles County mushroomed, and real estate boomed in tandem with growth, subdivisions were developed with micro farming in mind. Many homes were constructed on lots of one half to three acres, and marketed as “small farm homes” to newcomers flocking to Los Angeles. Many were Midwestern farmers who no longer wanted large farms and cold weather, but didn’t quite want to give up their agricultural heritage. Others drawn to these new homes were city people, attracted by publicity campaigns touting Southern California’s abundant harvests and golden sunshine and hoping to try their hand at small-scale farming. The automobile helped to promote the popularity of small farms on the periphery of the city, as newly mobile Angelenos could now easily transport their harvest to local markets.
The Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce did much to promote this “little farm development” around Los Angeles County. According to the Chamber, it was possible to make a living on a small farm on the outskirts of the city. People might make a go of it farming, according to the Chamber, with vegetables, fruit trees, and at least 200 laying hens on two to five acres. These small family-run, home-based farms helped to feed the demand of the growing city. The number of farms of less than 3 acres in Los Angeles County increased substantially during the 1920s, with 1,334 recorded in the 1920 census, and 5,000 in the 1930 census (White, 1933).
The Chamber, in cooperation with the LA Times, ran an annual Small Farm Home contest, publishing photos and stories about the winners, with the following entry a typical example:
“The one-acre farm of C.E. Drummond, 15219 Stagg Street, in West Van Nuys, is another where beauty and utility have been successfully combined in the making of a rural home. Here, again, are flowers for joy and recreation, vegetables and fruits for the table, and chickens to help swell the family purse (Scarborough, 1930, p. K12).”
Small farm homes contributed significantly to Los Angeles County’s status as the number one agricultural county in the US during this era. They also helped to make Los Angeles food-secure. According to a 1940 Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce brochure, “nearly half of the Los Angeles food supply originates on farms within 50 miles of the city”.
The small farm home trend continued through the Depression and well into the 1950s. In 1949, the University of California reported there were approximately 10,000 families living on small farms of one acre in size or smaller in Los Angeles County.
There are certainly differences between yesterday’s small farm homes, and today’s urban homesteads (TM). Today’s urban and suburban lots are much smaller. The Dervaes family’s Pasadena home is on a 1/5 acre lot, and certainly, many urban dwellers have much less space. The harvest from an urban yard today is more likely to supplement a family’s diet and income, rather than constitute a main component. Still, the motivators for self-sufficiency today and eighty years ago are similar; good food, a little relief for the family budget, and a sense of pride in “growing your own.” Whether you call it an "urban homestead (TM)", or a "small farm home", or maybe just "planting a garden", it’s a Los Angeles tradition that is once again gaining momentum.
Scarborough, O. (1930, Jan. 5, 1930). What acre offers. Los Angeles Times.
What the newcomer should know about agriculture in Los Angeles County and Southern California (1940). In L. A. C. C. o. Commerce (Ed.) (pp. 51). Los Angeles: Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.
White, R. P. (1933, Jan. 3). The new city of country homes. Los Angeles Times.
With the gubernatorial elections in California just weeks away, I have been thinking more about what I'd like to hear from the candidates. Hunger is a big problem here in Los Angeles County. I'd like to see our state doing more to address hunger and access to healthy food. For example, why does California have such low rates of food stamp participation? I haven't yet heard the candidates discuss hunger or food access.
In doing some research on Depression-era agriculture in Los Angeles, I was excited to learn about another contender for the job of California governor, 1934 candidate Upton Sinclair. He would probably have a lot to say to 2010 candidates Jerry Brown and Meg Whitman on fighting poverty and hunger.
A well-known novelist, Sinclair made his home in the Los Angeles area beginning in 1916. His novel, “The Jungle”, published in 1906, exposed the unsafe and unsanitary conditions of the meatpacking industry, sparking a national outcry which led to the passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act. Sinclair was an opinionated and prolific author of books and tracts on numerous topics. He was also a dedicated Socialist, who nonetheless decided to run for governor of California as a democrat. In other times, he and his campaign might not have gotten much traction, but the Depression and its devastating effects earned him a wide audience. His plan for a transformed California, EPIC (for “End Poverty in California") was inspiring to the unemployed and became a phenomenon in 1933 and 1934. The EPIC campaign was headquartered in Los Angeles, and encouraged supporters to form EPIC clubs at the local level. Soon, almost 1,000 such clubs had formed throughout the state (Starr, 1996).
A cornerstone of EPIC was a plan to use idle land to create farming colonies, where the unemployed would be put to work growing food to feed the hungry. Sinclair envisioned communal colonies, where excess farm products would be bartered for other goods. Idle factories would also be put to use employing those out of work. Cash would be less important in Sinclair’s vision, as barter and exchange of goods would become the focus of the economy. Sinclair also proposed that small farmers would pay their taxes in the form of agricultural products, rather than cash.
To Sinclair, it made sense that unused land would be put to use for the greater good. He wrote about the use of vacant land, “In Germany, every square foot of such land was planted with vegetables and small fruits. Why could not we in California have garden plots where there were now burned out patches of weeds?" (Sinclair, 1994, p. 17). In Sinclair’s vision, no one would go hungry. His EPIC Plan would primarily be financed by taxing corporations and utilities.
Sinclair and EPIC were surprisingly successful. He won the democratic primary and registered thousands of voters. However, Southern California businesses mobilized against him, as they found his vision of agricultural and economic reform threatening. The publisher of the Los Angeles Times, Harry Chandler, and the President of Los Angeles-based Sunkist, Charles Collins Teague (also President of the California State Chamber of Commerce) were just two major players in a campaign to discredit Sinclair. Through newspaper articles, advertisements, and newsreels, Sinclair was painted as a communist and his plans as dangerous (Sackman, 2005).
One typically over-the-top anti-Sinclair advertisement said of EPIC that “if it is successful, it will destroy California’s business structure, bankrupt our families, overthrow our organized labor, confiscate our homes, wreck our industries, and rob our employed workers of their employment".
Sinclair was also blamed by his powerful detractors for a trend that was beginning to rise to the top of the political agenda in California: Dustbowl migrants entering the state looking for work. According to his critics, Sinclair’s EPIC plan, with its assurances of food and employment for all, was responsible for the influx of thousands of impoverished families from Oklahoma and other states. (The reasons for that migration are complex, and had little to do with Sinclair or EPIC, and much to do with New Deal agricultural policies, desperation, and the perceived availability of jobs in California). Ultimately, while Sinclair lost to conservative republican Frank F. Merriam, he still received 879,537 votes, or 38% of the vote, and more than 20 candidates running on an EPIC platform made it to the State Assembly (Starr, 1996).
While the specifics of Sinclair's plan might not be practical today, what struck me most about his EPIC Plan was the idea that food and access to it should be a major focus of state government. We all need to eat. And today, as in Sinclair's era, California is a state of amazing agricultural abundance. Why should anyone go hungry here? Can't we and shouldn't we do more?
Jerry and Meg, let's hear what you have to say about hunger and food access.
Sackman, D. C. (2005). Orange empire : California and the fruits of Eden. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Sinclair, U. (1994). I, candidate for governor : and how I got licked. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Starr, K. (1996). Endangered dreams : the Great Depression in California. New York: Oxford University Press.
- Author: Judi Gerber
Many people might be surprised to find out that California’s first commercial wine country wasn’t in the Napa or Sonoma Valleys, but Los Angeles County.
Grapes were first planted in Los Angeles in the late 1780’s, as Spanish missionaries planted cuttings they brought with them from Spain and Portugal. Unlike the vintners of today, the Franciscan fathers made their wines strictly for private consumption. Not surprisingly, the grapes they produced became known as “mission” grapes.
Because wine grapes followed the slow expansion of the missions, vineyards planted by individuals were few and far between, and mission vineyards dominated through the early 1830s. As a result, Southern California was the primary winegrowing region of the state with Los Angeles being the largest area in the region.
Even as the mission variety of grapes spread to private growers, they didn’t sell or grow them for commercial purposes either. There were exceptions. In Los Angeles, some early Mexican growers including Tiburcio Tapia, Ricardo Vejar, and Tomas Yorba did sell to the locals but not as a large-scale commercial industry.
In 1826, Joseph Chapman put in 4,000 vines and became the first American grower on record in Los Angeles. For the next decade, he grew grapes in Los Angeles, eventually moving to Santa Barbara.
Then, in the 1830s, as European immigrants moved into Los Angeles, they started to plant other varieties, and planted them with the intention of making money.
In 1831, Frenchman Jean Louis Vignes moved to Los Angeles and purchased 104 acres of land and created a commercial vineyard where Union Station is today. He called the ranch El Aliso, named for the large Alder tree on his property. As a result, he became known as Don Luis del Aliso.
It was Vignes who made winegrowing a commercial enterprise in Los Angeles, leading directly to it becoming California’s first commercial winegrowing region. Not happy with the grape quality here of the “mission grapes” he brought in Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc from France.
He was soon followed by others and Los Angeles was on its way to becoming the state’s wine growing capital. In 1831, more than 100,000 vines were growing within the current city limits of Los Angeles, or, one-half of those in the state (Carosso 1951).
And, in 1833, Los Angeles had six wine growers owning nearly 100 acres of vineyards and approximately 100,000 vines (Carosso 1951).
By 1839, Vignes had over 40,000 vines thriving on his acreage and shipped wine at San Pedro, using ships he chartered for regular wine and brandy shipments to the ports of San Francisco, Monterey, and Santa Barbara. In 1849, he had the largest vineyard in California.
By end of the 1840s, the Gold Rush led to demand for winemaking, and viticulture became one of the most profitable agriculture industries in California.
By the mid-1850s, there were over 100 wineries in the Los Angeles area, with at least seventy-five within the town itself (Carosso 1951).
Watch For Part Two: Commercial Winemaking Explodes in Los Angeles
Carosso, Vincent P. (1951) The California Wine Industry: A Study of the Formative Years. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
Sullivan, Charles L., (1998). A Companion to California Wine: An Encyclopedia of Wine and Winemaking From the Mission Period to the Present. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Workman, Boyle, (1936). Boyle Workman’s The City That Grew. Los Angeles: Southland Publishing Company.