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Fostering Sustainability and Innovation in Agriculture

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Once the Largest Farming County in US, Los Angeles’s Agricultural Roots Laid Bare in New Book

August 30, 2016 |
Book cover image for "From Cows to Concrete: How Farming Transformed Los Angeles County" © 2016 by Rachel Surls and Judith Gerber, published by Angel City Press. All rights reserved. Image used with permission.

Book cover image for “From Cows to Concrete: How Farming Transformed Los Angeles County” © 2016 by Rachel Surls and Judith Gerber, published by Angel City Press. All rights reserved. Image used with permission.

Only a bird’s eye view truly reveals the extent of Los Angeles’s urban sprawl; a city crossed by ribbons of highways supporting unending streams of cars, where even its river is mostly encased in concrete. It’s hard to imagine that this was once a fertile place of such abundance that its name conjured up images of vineyards, orange groves and orchards; in which neighborhoods were better known for their celery than their celebrities. A timely new book, From Cows to Concrete: the Rise and Fall of Farming in Los Angeles, by Rachel Surls and Judith Gerber explores Los Angeles’s past as the agricultural center of North America, tracing its precipitous path as it developed into a concrete metropolis. It’s a cautionary tale that also offers hope for the future in the form of the burgeoning urban farm movement and a renewed interest in community and backyard gardening.

Seedstock recently spoke to co-author, Rachel Surls, Sustainable Food Systems Advisor at the University of California where her job includes overseeing a volunteer program of 300 trained master gardeners who teach local communities sustainable gardening. Read More

From Christmas Trees to Hydroponic Produce, Farmer Holds onto Roots with Eye to the Future

August 29, 2016 |
Hydroponically grown red and green mixed varieties of lettuce at Mock's Greenhouse and Farm in Berkeley Springs, West Virginia. Photo credit: Mock's Greenhouse and Farm.

Hydroponically grown red and green mixed varieties of lettuce at Mock’s Greenhouse and Farm in Berkeley Springs, West Virginia. Photo credit: Mock’s Greenhouse and Farm.

For Paul Mock, founder of Mock’s Greenhouse and Farm in Berkeley Springs, WV, farming is more than a career; it’s a way of life.

“My family’s been farming for over a hundred years,” says Paul. “I’ve technically been in the business since I was five years old.”

However, the hydroponic greenhouses that Paul manages now are in a whole different field than the Christmas tree farm he grew up on. After working on the family farm for most of his adult life, Paul moved off the farm in 2003 to start his own hydroponics greenhouse system. His reasons for this dramatic change were straightforward. Read More

Urban and Indoor Farms to Highlight Seedstock Conference’s “Future Farm Field Trip”

August 29, 2016 |
Grow Local OC Field Trip Farms

The Grow Local OC Conference field trip will stop at, from top left to right: Alegria Farm, Future Foods Farms, The Riverbed, and Urban Produce LLC.

The Grow Local OC: Future of Urban Food Systems Conference presented by Seedstock in partnership with the OC Food Access Coalition, and scheduled for Nov. 10 – 11, 2016, at California State University, Fullerton, will explore the community and economic development potential of fostering local food systems in cities.

The Future Farm Field Trip on Day 2 (Nov. 11) of the conference offers an excursion into the diversity of urban and state-of-the-art hydroponic and aquaponic agriculture operations in Orange County. Tour participants will be treated to lectures and sessions from pioneering farmers who are embracing innovative business models and growing systems to both increase food security and take advantage of the escalating demand for local food. Read More

Urban Farming and Food Access Org Grows Hope and Food in Ypsilanti, Michigan

August 24, 2016 |
Growing Hope trainees receiving wisdom from community gardeners. Photo courtesy of Growing Hope.

Growing Hope trainees receiving wisdom from community gardeners. Photo courtesy of Growing Hope.

Unbeknownst to the tens of thousands of students and professionals who pour into Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, Michigan yearly is that many of the citizens who call Ypsilanti home live in food desert — approximately one in three lives below the poverty line, and car ownership is low. Yet hope has come to this community in the guise of a seemingly unassuming converted 1930s farmhouse that harbors an educational powerhouse for the community in its backyard.

From its 1.4-acre site, the 501(c)3 organization Growing Hope operates hoop houses, a number of farmers’ markets, organizes more than 700 volunteers annually, works with state-run organizations and advocates on a national level to support and strengthen farmers’ markets. Read More

Vacant Lot Turned Urban Farm Transforms Community, Increases Food Access

August 24, 2016 |
The Growing Experience Photo Credit: Maria Hsin

The Growing Experience (TGE) is a seven-acre urban farm in North Long Beach that is located on a previously vacant lot. Photo Credit: Maria Hsin

On a recent Friday morning, eggs, figs and other vegetables and fruits were being placed on the back of a small truck destined to be sold at a farm stand in the parking lot outside of the Senior housing block in the Carmelitos Public Housing Community in Long Beach, CA. The produce was grown on site at The Growing Experience (TGE), a seven-acre urban farm in North Long Beach that is located on a previously vacant lot that is part of the same housing complex.  

The TGE urban farm is unique in that it is owned and operated by the Housing Authority of the County of Los Angeles (HACoLA), which manages 3,229 units of public and other affordable housing for the county’s Public Housing program. Read More

Avid Gardener’s Aquaponics Hobby Evolves into Commercial and Educational Enterprise

August 23, 2016 |
Helga Tan Fellows founder of gyo greens aquaponics florida

Helga Tan Fellows, founder of Ponte Vedra, Florida-based aquaponics farm Gyo Greens. Photo courtesy of Gyo Greens.

Aquaponics farms often amaze visitors with the symbiotic connection between aquaculture and hydroponics that results in picture-perfect produce. Yet many aquaponics operations focus solely on training and education. Gyo Greens in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, has a focus on both the business and educational realm, to further spread the message about the importance of eating locally and naturally.

Owner Helga Tan Fellows, who spent much of her career in engineering and manufacturing, began Gyo Greens after traveling frequently for her job and seeing aquaponics operations elsewhere. An avid gardener, she thought aquaponics could be a fun hobby—yet her husband said it would probably be a bigger undertaking than just a hobby. Read More

10 Educational Programs Helping to Support the Growth of Indoor Agriculture

August 22, 2016 |
Photo credit: Seedstock.

Photo credit: Seedstock.

The global indoor agriculture market is expected to grow to more than $27 billion by 2020, fueled by consumer demand for fresh, local produce, a growing population, an ability to produce food in otherwise unfarmable locations, and heavy investment. But that growth is all speculation unless there are actually growers to grow the food and fill those jobs of the future. With this in mind, several universities and experienced growers have begun offering an array of programs and short courses designed to get the growing class of controlled environment farmers up and running.

University of Arizona’s Controlled Environment Agriculture Center (CEAC)

Housed under the university’s Department of Agricultural & Biosystems Engineering and the School of Plant Sciences, CEAC is a hub for indoor ag education, research, and networking. The center includes a 5,200 square ft. training greenhouse, labs for plant physiology and engineering, a hydroponic growth chamber, and a “smart classroom” kitted out with technology that incorporates live data from the greenhouses into the classroom and shares lessons and visiting lecturers with distance learners. Through its own extension services and public curriculum, the CEAC also engages the public with opportunities for people not enrolled in the university to gain crop-specific hydroponic production experience, along with training on greenhouse management and design. Read More

Building Communities through Gardening

August 18, 2016 |
The Manzanita Street Community Garden in Los Angeles, CA. Photo courtesy of the Los Angeles Community Garden Council.

The Manzanita Street Community Garden in Los Angeles, CA. Photo courtesy of the Los Angeles Community Garden Council.

In a city of concrete that seems to extend forever, where every vacant lot looks destined for development, a patch of green is a welcome sight. Julie Beals, executive director of the Los Angeles Community Garden Council (LACGC) describes the response of residents of an East Hollywood neighborhood when they heard of plans for a community garden. “I had an older man break down in tears when I told him because they just expect the empty lot to be turned into a big apartment building.” She adds that in really dense neighborhoods people are thrilled when they find out they’re getting a community garden.

Speaking of the LACGC’s mission, Julie says, “We see ourselves as primarily community builders and we do that through gardening – it’s a way of bringing neighbors together, often for the first time.” The organization also encourages classes and programming in the gardens so that it’s more interactive and social. It’s not unusual for her to hear people say, “I lived here ten years, I never knew my neighbors and then I got a garden plot and now I know the people in this neighborhood.” Read More

Local Food Demand and Urban Farming Pioneer Inspire Creation of Aquaponic Farm in Milwaukee

August 17, 2016 |
Bowen DornBrook, founder of Central Greens, Photo credit: Samantha Gründlich.

Bowen DornBrook, founder of Central Greens, a 15,000-square-foot urban aquaponic farming operation located on a one-acre parcel of land in the heart of Milwaukee. Photo credit: Samantha Grandlich.

A stint with one of the most famous urban farming pioneers in the world along with a budding interest in hydroponics and aquaculture delved into while in the pursuit of a degree of in biology led Bowen DornBrook to take the plunge into aquaponic farming.

In 2013, he launched Central Greens, a 15,000-square-foot urban aquaponic farming operation located on a one-acre parcel of land in the heart of Milwaukee just down the road from Miller Park, home base of the Brewers baseball franchise.

Central Greens, an intertwined network of five separate greenhouses, currently houses eight 1,200-gallon tanks which are the lifeblood of the operation. Each tank holds between 500 and 600 fish, and the fish effluent in the water provides an organic nutrient source, or natural fertilizer, for the thousands of plants being grown in the system. Read More

Only Five Years in, Vermont Farm to Plate Strategic Plan Bears Fruit

August 16, 2016 |
An apple harvest at Champlain Orchards in Vermont. Photo credit: Champlain Orchards.

An apple harvest at Champlain Orchards in Vermont. Photo credit: Champlain Orchards.

The innovative and comprehensive Vermont Farm to Plate food system strategic plan unveiled five years ago has borne fruit.

A little more than halfway through the 10 year strategic plan, Vermont has seen increases in food system jobs and local food purchasing, but still faces challenges related to farmland access, food insecurity, farm viability, and local food availability.

The VT Farm to Plate strategic plan, created in 2011 by the Vermont Sustainable Job Fund (VJSF) per legislation passed in 2009, focuses on developing and implementing solutions to create more jobs in the state’s farm and food economy, augment economic development in Vermont’s food sector, and increase food access. The Farm to Plate food system plan aims to not only support Vermont’s long established dairy product and maple syrup industries, but also to encourage the growth and diversification of the state’s food system economy. Read More