- Author: Pamela Kan-Rice
At the website at http://ucanr.edu/urbanag, visitors will find information on raising livestock, crop production, marketing and policies for farming in their backyards, on a few acres, at a school or in a community setting.
Rachel Surls, a UC Cooperative Extension advisor in Los Angeles County, and a team including UCCE farm advisors, policy and advocacy experts, urban planners, agricultural economists and others created the new urban agriculture website in response to the results of a UC survey of urban farmers in California.
“Our team interviewed urban farmers around the state about their challenges and successes, and what information they really needed as they got started,” said Surls, who specializes in sustainable food systems. “Based on their needs, we looked for science-based educational materials that would be helpful and packaged them into this website.
Many urban farmers are beginning farmers, according to Surls. “They need basic information on planting, pests and irrigation, as well as information that's more specific to farming in the city,” she said. “For example, they must navigate local laws and regulations that impact farming which include zoning and health codes.”
The UC ANR Urban Agriculture website also advises urban farmers about environmental issues that they may encounter.
“Urban soils can sometimes be contaminated and may need testing and remediation,” Surls said. “Farming close to neighbors in the city can also bring special challenges.”
She encourages people to check back for updates as the Urban Ag website continues to grow.
“We'll also share stories about urban farms around California and news around the state about urban agriculture policies and initiatives,” Surls said.
Visit the UC ANR Urban Agriculture website at http://ucanr.edu/urbanag.
More than half a century after its decline, agriculture has again become high profile in Los Angeles County, although the focus has shifted from rural to urban. Urban agriculture has gained momentum in the county, as it has in many metropolitan centers throughout the United States, with a growing number of small-scale city farmers, along with enthusiastic backyard beekeepers and poultry raisers. However, despite the apparent popularity of urban agriculture, a clear picture of its status in the county did not exist until very recently.
A new UCLA student report, “Cultivate LA,” was released on Aug. 15 and offered the first comprehensive picture of the local urban agriculture landscape. The report provides an important foundation for UC Cooperative Extension and other groups involved in developing policy and educational resources for urban farmers.
According to Rachel Surls, UC Cooperative Extension sustainable food systems advisor in Los Angeles County and the “client” of the student project, the report has generated tremendous interest. The students verified a total of 1,261 urban agriculture sites using a variety of data sources, and confirming sites with telephone calls and Google Earth. They looked closely at issues such as complex zoning codes that impact urban farming and the distribution of its products. As one of their final products, the students created a website (www.cultivatelosangeles.org) that contains an interactive map and a chart of agriculture zoning codes in each of the county’s 88 cities and its unincorporated areas.
Surls became involved in urban agriculture policy beginning in 2011, through her participation in the Los Angeles Food Policy Council. Due to the lack of information at that time, the task of crafting policy was a challenge. So, when UCLA faculty members offered to have urban planning graduate students produce a comprehensive report on urban agriculture in Los Angeles County, guided by her input, Surls embraced the opportunity. With Carol Goldstein, lecturer in urban planning, and Stephanie Pincetl, professor and director of the California Center for Sustainable Communities at UCLA’s Institute of the Environment and Sustainability, Surls helped the students develop their research questions and directed them towards important sources of data.
Surls points out a few relevant findings that will guide her work in further developing UC Cooperative Extension’s program in sustainable food systems.
School gardens are the most common form of urban agriculture. In Los Angeles County, there are more than 700 verified sites. The report suggests that more resources and training are needed to ensure that gardens are successful and integrated into the school curriculum. Surls plans to update resources for school gardens in the next few months.
Urban farmers face major challenges. They find it hard to compete with rural farmers. Their small growing spaces make it difficult for them to produce fruits and vegetables that are competitively priced with those produced on large rural farms.
“Also, urban farmers have to learn from the ground up,” said Surls, who plans on creating an online database of resources and best practices for urban farmers. "Often, they don’t know where to start and don’t realize they are entering a very complex business.”
Despite some challenges, urban farmers can enjoy advantages. Some have access to free or low-cost land if they operate within a public agency or nonprofit setting. Surls is currently developing resources that will help urban farmers test their soil and identify and mitigate problems, such as lead contamination. She also hopes to partner with nonprofit agencies to evaluate vacant lands for their suitability for farming.
Surls is currently leading a project that is assessing the needs of urban agriculture throughout the state. She is excited to see how the results of the UCLA student report will dovetail with the results of the statewide assessment.
“What’s happening in Los Angeles is mirrored in cities around California,” said Surls. "The public is enthusiastic about urban farming, and municipalities are struggling to find models that work in California’s urban communities. Both of these projects can help planners and citizens make common-sense decisions and help current and future urban farmers become successful.”
To learn more about the UCLA student project, visit http://cultivatelosangeles.org. For more information on UC Cooperative Extension’s sustainable food systems program, please visit http://celosangeles.ucanr.edu.
- Author: Jeannette E. Warnert
Follow the event in real time from 5 a.m. to 12 noon Pacific Time on Twitter using the tag #whgarden.
White House Social is a series of in-person meetings of people who engage with the White House through social media, including Twitter, Facebook and Google+. Hayden-Smith has followed Barack Obama, Michelle Obama and the White House on Twitter since Obama's election in 2008. She won the invitation after entering a contest that asked contestants to describe in 140 characters why they wanted to visit the White House garden.
"I'm really excited to be part of this,” said Hayden-Smith, who is also a UC Cooperative Extension advisor in Ventura County, specializing in 4-H youth, family and community development. "The fact that the Obamas are cultivating a food-producing garden on the grounds of the White House says really wonderful things about our country. The First Family is showing its concern about the health of Americans and reducing childhood obesity. That's something we at UC Cooperative Extension care a great deal about.”
Hayden-Smith Tweets as "Victory Grower” (@victorygrower) a persona she created to reflect her interest in a national revival of the Victory Garden movement, in which increasing food production was considered vital to bolstering national security by creating a more secure food supply.
"It's a different 'victory' now, but many of the goals are the same," Hayden-Smith said. "Gardens connect people with food and food production. Food is fundamental. It's what everyone shares in common. As we are entering a more challenging era of increased population and pressure on resources, it is vital for people to understand how to cultivate food.”
Hayden-Smith travels to Washington D.C. on Wednesday, Oct. 17. On Thursday, she and her colleague Rachel Surls (@rachelsurls), UCCE advisor in Los Angeles County, will tour urban garden projects in the nation's capital. They will be Tweeting about their tour on Thursday afternoon using the tag #urbanag.
Though not an official part of White House Social, Surls will have a brief tour of the White House Kitchen Garden on Friday. She will Tweet on Friday using the tag #whgarden.
Surls and Hayden-Smith are joining with UC Agriculture and Natural Resources to promote urban agriculture in California, an effort that is expected to generate multiple benefits. Gardening provides a way for people to be physically active, to improve food access, to increase fruit and vegetable consumption and to reconnect people with agriculture.
Following are background articles related to Victory Grower and urban agriculture efforts:
- Victory Gardens: A boon in hard times
- Summon us to service
- Kitchen table memories
- Urban Agriculture: A good model then, a good model now
- On the future of food
- UC helps you design your landscape and eat it, too
- Outlook: UC's land-grant mission fuels nation's growth, prosperity
- Setting agricultural science strategy in tumultuous economic times