Cultivate LA Is New View on
Until the early 1950s, Los Angeles was an agricultural
powerhouse as the top farm county in the nation for decades, producing a wide
array of fruits and vegetables as well as milk and other farm products. The
University of California maintained a large Cooperative Extension office in Los
Angeles County to work with local farmers. In the following years, as land was
developed, farming declined precipitously.
Today, one UC Cooperative Extension farm advisor works
with Los Angeles County commercial farmers, who are mostly located in the rural
high desert around Lancaster.
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.
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
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
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
"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."
Labels: California Center for Sustainable Communities, Carol Goldstein, Cultivate LA Is New View on Urban AG, Rachel Surls UC Cooperative Extension, Stephanie Pincetl, UCLA