Urban Agriculture
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Urban Agriculture

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Agriculture Part of Compton's Past, Present and Future

I often see and find inspiration in the links between current events around Los Angeles and our county's agricultural heritage.  This week my "ahah" moment came at the Compton Creek Symposium, an event put on jointly by my organization, UC Cooperative Extension, and the Los Angeles and San Gabriel Rivers Watershed Council.  This was a two-day event that brought together community, staff of government agencies, city officials and local non-profits to discuss the Compton Creek watershed and its renovation. 

One symposium presenter, Reginald Fagan, talked about what Compton was like when he was a boy.  He grew up playing alongside the creek, collecting shellfish and crayfish, and riding his bike and ponies along its bank.  He was a member of the 4-H Bison Club active in Compton at that time.  "When I was growing up here we all had gardens.  Food wasn't an issue", said Fagan. 

Another participant at the symposium told me about growing up in Compton in the late 1950's.  "This was the country.  There were dairies everywhere". 

A piece of Compton's farm history is alive today in the community of Richland Farms, a neighborhood of approximately 400 homes, many on an acre or more of land, where residents own horses and livestock.  In fact, I discovered that there is a very active youth equestrian group based in Richland Farms called the Compton Jr. Posse.  I had a great time talking with their founder and Executive Director, Mayisha Akbar.  Learn about this impressive organization at http://www.comptonjrposse.org/ .

During the two-day symposium, as participants shared their visions for the future of Compton and its Creek, urban agriculture and gardening were mentioned numerous times as viable components of that future.  For example, Reginald Fagan is currently working to develop an agricultural resource center for Compton, The Timbuktu Resource Center and Learning Academy, which will engage local youth in sustainable agriculture.  Others talked about creating a community garden near the creek.  In fact, the approved regional plan for the area is entitled the "Compton Creek Regional Garden Park Master Plan".  The plan includes native plants and trees, pocket parks, a community garden, and even a hitching post and watering trough for horses, along with many other features to enhance the area. 

To learn more about Compton Creek, go to The Watershed Council website at http://lasgrwc2.org/programsandprojects/llarc.aspx?search=comptoncreek.  A copy of the Compton Creek Regional Garden Park Master Plan, which includes history, photos, community input, maps and much more, can be downloaded at the Council's on-line document library at http://lasgrwc2.org/dataandreference/Document.aspx.

Aerial view of Compton, circa 1936.  Compton Creek is in the foreground.
Aerial view of Compton, circa 1936. Compton Creek is in the foreground.

Posted on Friday, September 18, 2009 at 3:50 PM

Cherry Picking in the Antelope Valley--A Great Family Activity

For a brief period each spring, cherries are available at several pick-your-own farms in Los Angeles County's Antelope Valley, mostly in the community of Leona Valley.   Leona Valley is approximately nine miles west of Palmdale, and about 70 miles from downtown Los Angeles.  Quite a few varieties of cherries are available, including Bings, Rainiers, Brooks and Black Tartarians. 

Cherry picking is currently underway, and it's a great family outing.  This coming weekend, June 20th and 21st, is the peak of the Antelope Valley cherry season, so now is the time to plan your trip.  Many of the farms have tables where families can picnic, so you can make a day of it.  Some of the Leona Valley cherry farms also produce and sell other items such as honey. 

For directions and a list of farms, go to the Leona Valley Cherry Grower's Association website at www.cherriesupic.com/welcome.html .  Be sure to visit Leona Valley before this brief, but sweet, season is over for another year. 

Ripe Cherries
Ripe Cherries

Posted on Tuesday, June 16, 2009 at 3:14 PM

A Feast Grows in Baldwin Park

The Baldwin Park Community Garden sits in the shadow of the San Bernardino Freeway in Eastern Los Angeles County. As the cars rush by, an effective and innovative community garden grows. I was delighted to be a guest of students and their teachers recently.  I was impressed with the public-private partnership which made this garden possible to benefit the community and local children. 

The garden, which is approximately a quarter acre in size, has both school and community plots. The land and financial support are provided by Kaiser Permanente. The City of Baldwin Park helps to maintain the garden. The Baldwin Park Unified School District uses the garden to engage fourth graders from five classrooms at two elementary schools in hands-on nutrition education through a project called “The Moveable Feast”. The Moveable Feast conducts in-garden nutrition lessons, each of which includes an easy, healthy recipe using garden produce. 
Each month’s nutrition lesson ties into cultural and community awareness. For example, as the recession has deepened, Moveable Feast Director Linda Hahn wanted lessons to tie in with the growing problem of hunger in the community. In April each student prepared two “Rainbow Pita Pocket Sandwiches”, one for them, and one for a person in need, and worked with the local food bank to distribute the extra sandwiches. 
The garden activities have had a measurable impact on the kids. A recent survey of the students suggested that 87% eat more fruits and vegetables after having participated in the garden.
In my view, the Baldwin Park garden has three key ingredients that help to ensure and sustain its success:
1.                  Institutional support. Three entities, Kaiser Permanente, the City of Baldwin Park, and the Baldwin Park Unified School District are deeply invested in this project, and support it either financially or through significant in-kind contributions.
2.                  Meaningful youth involvement. Teachers and the school district, via the Moveable Feast, engage children in effective, measurable garden-based learning that’s tailored to the needs of the community. 
3.                  Promotion of the project to the community and key decision makers. The Moveable Feast has a “Guest Chef” program that brings in local leaders to see and participate in the garden. Student essay competitions, a garden cookbook and thank-you celebrations also help to promote and further engage the community in this endeavor. 
For the kids, its success is very simple. As one student stated, “The garden is the best place I have gone since I entered fourth grade. It is the best garden in the world”.

A 4th Grade Student Reads her Winning Garden Essay, as Linda Hahn Looks on
A 4th Grade Student Reads her Winning Garden Essay, as Linda Hahn Looks on

Posted on Monday, June 8, 2009 at 9:36 AM

Jacarandas--A Joy of Early Summer in LA

Nothing heralds the coming of summer in Los Angeles quite like the bloom of our jacaranda trees. Jacarandas produce loads of incredible purple flowers in May and June, with trees lining entire streets in some parts of town. Our in-house tree expert at UC Cooperative Extension, Environmental Horticulture Advisor Donald Hodel, considers this year’s LA jacarandas to look “especially handsome and floriferous”. Don is the author of several books on trees, including “Exceptional Trees of Los Angeles”. 

Don likes jacarandas not only because of their flowers, but also because they have a nice canopy—lacy, airy, and not too dense-which lets light through and makes it possible to grow other plants underneath. 
Don shared some suggestions for anyone who might be considering a jacaranda as part of their landscape.
1.                  Jacarandas require adequate space. Keep in mind that they will grow 30 feet tall and up to 30 feet wide.
2.                  When in bloom, the trees drop lots of flowers which can stain patios, cars, and even carpets if they are tracked into the house. It’s best to plant jacarandas where they can drop their flowers on lawns or groundcover.
3.                  Jacarandas tend to produce water sprouts, vigorous upright shoots that grow straight up out of the branches. These should be thinned out if possible because they damage overall branch structure of the tree and are often weakly attached.
4.                  Once established, jacarandas can get by on winter rain, but need to be irrigated in summer and fall.
5.                  For established trees, it’s best to withhold water and fertilizer in the winter because this will ensure more flowers in the spring.
Jacarandas are a South American tree, native to Argentina, and belong to the trumpet vine family along with other flowering trees such as Catalpa and Paulownia.
Learn more about Don Hodel and his research on urban trees at http://celosangeles.ucdavis.edu/Environmental_Horticulture/Donald_R_Hodel.htm


Jacaranda mimosifolia, Copyright 2009 by  Donald R. Hodel
Jacaranda mimosifolia, Copyright 2009 by Donald R. Hodel

Posted on Thursday, June 4, 2009 at 1:28 PM

Backyard Chickens in Los Angeles

Backyard chickens seem to be popular now, and we’ve been getting quite a few calls and emails at Cooperative Extension about raising chickens. We don’t have anyone here in the LA office with poultry expertise, so I checked in with our UC Extension poultry specialist at UC Davis, Dr. Francine Bradley. She gave me the scoop and some helpful resources for folks who want to raise backyard chickens.

Dr. Bradley has also noticed the increased interest in backyard chicken-keeping throughout the state. She said that people who contact her tend to fall into four distinct groups of backyard chicken enthusiasts. 
1.                  Fanciers, who raise chickens competitively
2.                  4-H members
3.                  People who want to save money through backyard egg production
4.                  A growing number of people who keep a few hens as pets. They often don’t care whether their hens lay eggs or not. (Dr. Bradley noted that this group often refers to their hens as “the girls.”)
For anyone who wants to try backyard chickens, or currently has some, here are helpful pointers from Dr. Bradley.
Potential chicken owners should check their city’s zoning laws for livestock, specifically chickens. This information can be found on city planning department web sites or by calling the zoning department. (Laws vary by municipality but many cities in Los Angeles County allow residents to keep a small number of hens, and require that they be kept a minimum of 20 feet from the owner’s residence and 35 from any neighboring residences. Laws around keeping roosters tend to be more restrictive.)
Dr. Bradley remarked that even more important than checking the zoning laws is talking with your neighbors. “Be respectful of your neighbors. Talk to them first before getting the chickens,” she said. “If neighbors feel like they’ve bought into the idea, they will be much more supportive and less likely to call the city with complaints”. She suggested that chicken owners be careful about when they let the chickens out in the morning, so that their clucking does not annoy the neighbors, and also share some eggs to build goodwill. (I would also suggest that urban residents forgo owning roosters if they want to maintain good relationships with neighbors, because roosters are truly noisy, and may crow day and night).
New chicken owners tend to make three critical mistakes, according to Dr. Bradley, in the areas of housing, nutrition and veterinary care. But these mistakes are easy to avoid. 
First, “People often have the misconception that it’s best for the chickens to run around the yard,” said Dr. Bradley. However, due to urban predators, including coyotes, feral cats, raptors and other wildlife, chickens should be kept in a coop with wire sides, and a solid top which keeps out droppings from wild birds, whose droppings can spread diseases to domestic birds. If chicken owners want to take a few members of the flock out to run around the yard for a while, they should stay outside with their chickens to keep an eye on them.
Second, she hears of people feeding their chickens all kinds of odd things, from cat food to organic polenta. Owners should purchase chicken feed, which is made specifically for chickens, at a feed store. Also, don’t bother buying chicken scratch. It’s the equivalent of chicken junk food. 
Third, plan to provide appropriate veterinary care for chickens. “Many people tell me “Oh, it’s just a chicken, I’m not going to take it to the vet”,” said Dr. Bradley. “I take exception to that. If you are going to own an animal, you need to accept the responsibility of providing care if it is sick.” Unfortunately, according to Dr. Bradley, there is only one vet in the greater Los Angeles area who regularly treats backyard chickens. His name is Dr. Marion Hammarlund. He is located in Riverside and can be reached at 951-687-2373. In addition to in-office visits, he will provide telephone consultations for a reasonable fee. 
There is another option if a chicken dies. Its owner can then take it to the California Animal Health and Food Safety Laboratory in San Bernardino. The lab will do a free postmortem analysis on a chicken carcass, and send the owner a report. This information can then help to save the rest of the flock. If a chicken dies, the owner should double-bag the carcass in plastic and keep it cool, but not frozen. The San Bernardino lab is open Monday-Friday, from 8 am to 5 pm, and an appointment not necessary. A courier service is available, for a fee, if it is too far or inconvenient to drive to San Bernardino. The lab’s phone number is 909-383-4287. More information about the lab and location are available at http://cahfs.ucdavis.edu/show.php?id=104#sb . Dr. Bradley suggests that chicken owners could have the lab fax their report to Dr. Hammarlund, who can then help them to interpret the report.
UC Cooperative Extension has many publications available on small-scale chicken production at the UC Poultry Page, http://animalscience.ucdavis.edu/Avian/sm_flock.htm.
Best of luck with “the girls”!
Posted on Tuesday, May 26, 2009 at 8:51 AM

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