UC Food and Agriculture Blogs
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.
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.
Los Angeles County Celery Production
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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//o:p>/o:p>/span>/o:p>/o:p>/o:p>/o:p>
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.
orange crate label
Originally from the Midwest, I have been a Los Angeles County resident for 20 years, working at UC Cooperative Extension for much of that time. First, I helped start school and community gardens. Later, I became county director for the LA County Cooperative Extension office. With both jobs, I’ve had the opportunity to observe various facets of agriculture in Los Angeles, from small gardens to large commercial enterprises. It’s fascinating to me that, while Los Angeles County has a population of more than 10 million people, agriculture remains highly relevant. Many people may not be aware that LA County still has commercial farming, mostly in the high desert area near Lancaster and Palmdale. The “baby” carrots you buy at the grocery store may have been grown here. LA County growers also produce potatoes, peaches, onions, alfalfa and more.
In fact, as recently as 1950, Los Angeles County was the number one agricultural county in the nation. Although our current level of commercial production is much smaller, we still have a large nursery and landscaping industry, along with a population that is very much interested in food and its production. Because of our great climate, we’ve always had many residents who garden, with a recent surge of enthusiasm for home and community gardening, farmers markets, and even backyard beekeeping and poultry production. There is also renewed interest in canning and food preservation. These trends have been sparked by recent books, such as the “Omnivore’s Dilemma” by Michael Pollan, the Slow Food movement and current economic conditions.
People are looking for information on these topics. After some Internet searching, they may end up at our Cooperative Extension web site, celosangeles.ucdavis.edu/ , and send me an email. I’ve been getting such interesting questions in my inbox: Can I raise cows in my backyard?; How do I start a vineyard?; Can I still use this can of soup that's been on my shelf since 1960?; and, Why are there so few honeybees in my backyard lately? I don't always know the answer to these questions (although I’m pretty sure you should NOT eat the soup), but through the University of California, we do have access to experts on a wide variety of topics. Right here in our Cooperative Extension office in Los Angeles we have world-class experts, and on our campuses, we have access to many more. It's satisfying when I can connect someone with helpful information.
I created this blog to accomplish several things. First, I'll find and share answers to some of the questions that come my way that are of broad interest to Los Angeles County residents. Second, I'll share stories about agriculture in Los Angeles County. I’m a history buff, so some of these stories will be historical in nature. I’m a firm believer that understanding our past can help us to plan for and make a better Los Angeles for the future. Third, I'll seek out and write about some of the interesting agricultural activities going on around Los Angeles County today. I define agriculture in the broadest way, and will include observations and information on everything from home gardens to our nursery and landscape industry to larger-scale commercial farming. Finally, I will suggest resources for those interested in various aspects of agriculture in Los Angeles County, including those available through UC Cooperative Extension.
Thanks for reading!