"Sometimes, I think there's local elected officials who feel the highest use of that land is to build businesses that will create jobs," Surls said. "And although urban agriculture can sometimes create jobs, it has other community benefits that perhaps aren't entirely valued, like offering healthy food, beautifying the neighborhood. Oftentimes, neighborhoods get a Burger King on a piece of vacant land rather than a community garden."
Surls said beginning urban farmers at first need basic horticultural information - what to grow, when to plant, how to irrigate and how to manage pests. As they gain experience, they often encounter challenges there weren't aware of at first, such as regulatory or zoning issues.
"And if they stick around long enough," Surls said, "they get to a phase where they need more sophisticated production information, more marketing and business-oriented information, and advice on things like labor. How can I legally use volunteers? What are California labor laws? Just a lot of information that commercial farmers have been dealing with for a long time."
To help farmers at each of these stages, Surls developed a website for urban farmers that aggregates information and resources needed to start a new farm, work with city and county officials, and market their produce.