Urban Agriculture
University of California
Urban Agriculture

UC Food and Agriculture Blogs

Lincoln’s Land-Grant Legacy Alive in Los Angeles

I’m a week behind schedule in celebrating the 200th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birth, but in the spirit of “better late than never” I decided to write a Lincoln-themed post anyway. As former Presidents go, Lincoln’s been getting more than his share of attention since the recent election of another Senator from Illinois. Among his many enduring legacies, Lincoln helped to create the national extension movement that continues to serve our country to this day. By signing the 1862 Morrill Act into law, he made it possible for states to open public universities that would provide education for the average person, focused on agriculture and other practical subjects. 

The Morrill Act offered states a grant of federal land to finance a new university. These new institutions of higher learning became known as land-grant universities, and were charged with helping the nation improve its agricultural production to feed a rapidly growing population. Over time it was clear that the new land-grant campuses needed to take their information out into communities where it could help people most directly. By 1914, each state's land-grant university had county-based extension offices in place to share research-based knowledge at the local level. 

Here in California, our land-grant institution is the University of California. There is a University of California Cooperative Extension office in most counties in California, funded in partnership with the local county and the US Department of Agriculture. UC Cooperative Extension takes information developed at the UC campuses and makes it available to local communities. We also conduct applied research to address local problems. We focus our efforts on the themes of good nutrition, a healthy environment, gardening, agriculture, and positive youth development.

When Lincoln signed the Morrill Act 147 years ago, the US was a nation of farmers. Today, less than two percent of the population engages in farming.  Yet the issues we address are highly relevant to a more urban population. Cooperative Extension continues to work with farmers. Urban residents value having farms nearby so that they can have farmers markets and some measure of regional food security. Cooperative Extension’s expertise in nutrition helps communities struggling to overcome challenges like childhood obesity and diabetes. We continue to tailor our 4-H Youth Development Program to new audiences of youth, who learn leadership, citizenship and life skills through more than 80 projects ranging from photography to marine biology. Our expertise in natural resources has allowed us to help find solutions to critical environmental issues such as management of wildfire and water pollution. 
 
More details about UC Cooperative Extension in Los Angeles County are available at our website at http://celosangeles.ucdavis.edu/.  Although the world has changed so much, I like to think Abe Lincoln would approve of the continuing influence of his Morrill Act and its land-grant legacy on communities like Los Angeles. 
Posted on Thursday, February 19, 2009 at 2:25 PM

Rooftop Gardens in Los Angeles

In dense urban communities it can be a challenge for gardeners to find a plot to call their own.  Community gardens are one strategy to create garden space for people without backyards.  Another possibility is to look at rooftops for garden space.  Today’s LA Times Home and Garden Section features a local chef who has developed a garden on a rooftop in Beverly Hills which supplies some of the herbs and vegetables he uses at his restaurant. Photos and the article are available at http://tinyurl.com/ct2wje .

Another more extensive rooftop garden was recently created on a mid-rise residential building in downtown Los Angeles.   This project, entitled SYNTHe, will include fruit trees and vines along with vegetables.  Take a look at the photos and description at http://tinyurl.com/c3qfbh.

While food production is one focus of rooftop gardening, it's not the only reason to plant on roofs.  There is a strong international “green roof” movement that promotes greening rooftops to help cool and insulate buildings and reduce storm water runoff.  Several metropolitan areas have recently promoted green roofs.  For example, starting this year New York City building owners can receive substantial property tax credits for installing green roofs.  

Anyone interested in creating a rooftop garden or green roof will need to do some research, since structural and safety issues are involved.  The weight of soil, plants and water and the weight capacity of the roof need to be carefully assessed.  I found two especially helpful resources as I looked for information on rooftop gardening.  A recent article in the San Francisco Chronicle provided an overview of rooftop gardening around the United States, at http://tinyurl.com/crl673. Here in Los Angeles, the City of Los Angeles Environmental Affairs Department has published an outstanding and extensive guide to green roofs, available at tinyurl.com/atqf7l

As Los Angeles residents continue to seek ways to improve their urban environment, rooftop gardening merits further exploration and expansion.

 

Posted on Saturday, February 14, 2009 at 11:57 PM

Local Historian Delves into South Bay Agricultural History

One of our talented Master Gardeners, Judi Gerber, is also a historian who has recently published the book Farming in Torrance and the South Bay from the Arcadia Press “Images of America” Series.  

The book is loaded with photos of Torrance and surrounding communities from the days, not so long ago, when LA County’s South Bay was home to major agriculture, including flower farms, hay and bean production, dairies and much more. Judi shares great information: for example, I never knew that Gardena was once known as the “Berry Capital of Southern California” and that Lomita once billed itself as the “Celery Capital of the World”. 
 
An image Judi shares in the book is that of flower stalls all along Pacific Coast Highway, selling the snapdragons, carnations and marigolds produced in the flower fields of Redondo and Hermosa Beach during the first half of the 20th Century. Contrast this early, pastoral Pacific Coast Highway with today’s strip-mall lined, traffic-jammed PCH. It is a vivid example of how much Los Angeles has changed in a few short decades.
 
I asked Judi how she became interested in local agricultural history. She was born in the South Bay, grew up in Torrance, and remembers visiting a local dairy as a child. As an adult, she became involved with the Torrance Farmer’s Market, and saw a need to let people know about the remaining local farming community and how to preserve it. Along with a busy career in public administration, she began a study of local farming history. Older residents of the area were very helpful, offering stories and photos, eager to share this part of their past. 
 
As her history project evolved, she somehow managed to squeeze in volunteer work with our Master Gardener Program. As a UC Master Gardener, she leads a gardening program for senior citizens at Bartlett Senior Center in Torrance. 
 
She also blogs as “LA Farm Girl” at http://www.lafarmgirl.blogspot.com/ and has published a variety of articles about farming in California. “My goal is to get people to support small farmers and become more aware of city farming”, said Judi. “California still produces more than half of our nation’s fruits and vegetables. As urban dwellers we often forget that. It’s a story that needs to be told.”

Los Angeles County Celery Production
Los Angeles County Celery Production

Bill Mertz (left) and Carl Tasche pose with their celery in LA County's Lomita, the former "Celery Capital of the World". (Courtesy of Bill Mertz).

Posted on Wednesday, January 28, 2009 at 3:05 PM

Master Gardeners Help Los Angeles County Residents Grow their own Food

Cooperative Extension has a wonderful resource that I’d like people to be more aware of: our amazing Master Gardener Volunteers.  We have more than 200 MG volunteers, as we call them. 

The Master Gardener Program officially began in 1978.  We maintained the program on and off over the years, depending on staffing and interest.  By the early 1990s, however, our program in Los Angeles County was inactive.  That is, until Yvonne Savio, coordinator extraordinaire joined our staff in 1995 and immediately restarted the program.  It’s been going strong ever since. 

Master Gardeners participate in extensive training then volunteer with us in a variety of ways, mostly focused on improving food access in low-income communities.  Last year our Master Gardeners reached more than 87,000 people in Los Angeles County, working with community gardens, school gardens and answering calls on our Master Gardener Helpline. 

The Helpline is a free service for Los Angeles County residents.  Anyone can call or email the Helpline with their home gardening questions.  The Master Gardener Helpline is available by phone at (323) 260-3238 or email at mglosangeleshelpline@ucdavis.edu. 

Yvonne and the Master Gardeners have been featured in the media twice in the past week.  The Los Angeles Times ran a story on Victory Gardens on January 10th, and included a mention of how our Master Gardeners have helped to promote food gardening around Los Angeles. The Times article discussed how interest in gardening is cyclical, and that when economic times are difficult, more people garden.  For example, the article mentions that a major seed company experienced a 40% increase in its sale of vegetable and herb seeds in 2007.   You can view the story at www.latimes.com/features/home/la-hm-victory10-2009jan10,0,7167635.story

Our Master Gardener program was also featured on Evan Kleiman’s “Good Food” Show on KCRW on January 10th.  You can listen to the interview with Yvonne at www.kcrw.com/etc/programs/gf/gf090110australian_olive_oil

Learn more about our Los Angeles County Master Gardener Program at this link:  celosangeles.ucdavis.edu/Common_Ground_Garden_Program/

Posted on Saturday, January 17, 2009 at 12:04 PM

Los Angeles and the "Orange Empire"

I’ve heard many people, including my parents, talk about having received an orange every year in their Christmas stocking.   Apparently, this custom dates back many years. I remember reading a Laura Ingalls Wilder book as a child in which Laura was thrilled to receive an orange for Christmas. It was a special treat, at a time when oranges were rare and expensive.

During my holiday break, I read an interesting book called “Orange Empire: California and the fruits of Eden”, by Douglas Cazaux Sackman, that tells the story of how oranges went from being a once a year treat to something common and inexpensive.    Los Angeles was once the center of the “Orange Empire”. 
 
Oranges were brought by the Spanish as they settled the missions, and the first grove in Southern California was planted at the Mission San Gabriel, here in Los Angeles County, in 1804.   They were grown on a very limited scale until a frontiersman and entrepreneur named William Wolfskill decided to try growing oranges commercially. He obtained permission to farm on a hill in what is now downtown Los Angeles, and began planting oranges and lemons with seeds from the Mission.   By the time the Gold Rush began in 1849, he was able to ship his citrus crop north to miners who were willing to pay a premium to avoid scurvy, up to $1 per orange. Wolfskill’s Los Angeles orchard was never more than 70 acres. 
 
The citrus industry in Southern California really took off in the 1870’s due to two innovations. First, a family in Riverside County obtained two trees of a citrus variety from Brazil.   The fruit from these trees was larger, sweeter, and easier to peel . This variety, which came to be known as the Washington navel orange, created a surge of interest in growing citrus. In the same decade, the transcontinental railroad system was completed, and William Wolfskill shipped the very first railcar load of oranges east in 1877.   In the 1880s, with the advent of refrigerated shipping, the growing citrus industry got another boost.   Many growers quickly entered the citrus production business, and towns along the rail lines in Los Angeles County were founded as part of the burgeoning citrus industry, including Pasadena. 
 
“Centered on the Los Angeles basin, a vast citrus landscape was coming into being” said Sackman (p.42). “In 1870, only 30,000 orange trees were growing in the state. Twenty years later, 1.1 million trees were producing fruit”.   By 1893, local citrus growers had organized themselves into the California Fruit Growers Exchange, later known as Sunkist. Sunkist was instrumental in driving the demand for oranges, promoting oranges and orange juice as health aids, with national advertising campaigns beginning in 1907.   Sunkist advertisements, along with colorful orange crate labels, helped to brand Los Angeles and Southern California as a new Eden, the land of sunshine and good health. This image helped to drive migration from other parts of the US to the Los Angeles region, particularly during the 1920s and 1930s.  
 
The Los Angeles “Orange Empire” began to decline after World War II, as acres of citrus were rapidly sacrificed to the growing, sprawling suburbs of the Los Angeles basin.   As recently as 1970, there were still more than 50,000 acres of citrus in the county; but today, most orange trees in Los Angeles are in backyards rather than groves. 
 
As a parent of two teens, I know that today, an orange in a Christmas stocking might not be appreciated. But to pluck one off a tree, on a 75 degree day in January, still makes Los Angeles seem like Eden to a former Midwesterner like me.

orange crate label
orange crate label

Posted on Friday, January 9, 2009 at 4:57 PM

First storyPrevious 5 stories  |  Next 5 stories | Last story

 
E-mail
 
Webmaster Email: vtborel@ucanr.edu