Los Angeles Nonprofit Cultivates City Policy to Grow Local Food Systems
February 21, 2014 | Trish Popovitch
In the fall of 2009, on the 30th anniversary of Los Angeles County’s first farmers’ market, then mayor of Los Angeles Antonio Villaraigosa announced a task force of community stakeholders to draft a healthy sustainable food agenda for the county.
Out of that task force came the Los Angeles Food Policy Council, which held its first official meeting in 2011.
The mission of the organization is to make Southern California a Good Food region for everyone—where food is healthy, affordable, fair and sustainable. LAFPC has five full-time staff members, one part-time staff member and two interns. They provide resources for small business owners, residents and policy makers throughout Los Angeles County, and are funded by private philanthropic groups, nonprofit in-kind matching funds and the countless volunteer hours of their many supporters.
“This is how we connect the importance of food to community. It helps tell the story of our food system in a really visible, tangible way,” says Alexa Delwiche, Managing Director of the LAFPC. “Urban agriculture on a local community-based level has huge benefits—increasing access to healthy food in communities that need it most and helping to revitalize neighborhoods and create community spaces. Most importantly, it’s just a huge awareness tool that helps people connect back to the land.”
According to a report conducted by UCLA students on urban agriculture in Los Angeles, there are over 1300 “diverse urban agricultural sites” in the county of 88 cities. This was further broken down into 118 community gardens, 76 school gardens, 171 farms and 211 nurseries.
LAFPC sets forward specific goals and objectives for their local food system, including improved access, job creation, improved food worker’s rights, a cohesive food infrastructure and the rehabilitation of underdeveloped and underserved communities within the county. The Council’s goal is to ensure healthy food access to all of the residents of Los Angeles County.
The majority of the LAFPC’s work is in the design and development of policies, codes and ordinances that are the result of listening to the community. LAFPC, an independent nonprofit, is located inside city hall, providing unique access to public officials. The organization mediates and facilitates working groups that share ideas and reach consensus on how to meet the county’s many sustainability objectives.
One of LAFPC’s most effective programs to date has been the Good Food Purchasing Pledge, an easily replicable model for local food commitment.
By committing to source local products for the 650,000 meals they serve each day, the LA Unified School District became one of the first to take the LAFPC’s Good Food Purchasing Pledge. As the county’s largest produce buyer, their decision to use products from within a 200-mile radius has, according to a recent article in the LA Times, boosted the local economy.
“We’ve been working with LAUSD since the beginning of the Food Policy Council,” says Delwiche. “The food services director is on our board. They redirected 12 million dollars of local food purchase into the local economy. Seventy percent of their produce is local, 100 percent of their milk purchase is local and 150 jobs were created from LAUSD to local sourcing and businesses.”
In 2013, the LAFPC was instrumental in turning the concept of guerilla gardening, (made famous by Ron Finley and receiving exposure through the Ted Talks series) into a tangible way to show how community organizing and working together can bring positive sustainable change. By 2014, an ordinance was passed making it legal, by removing the need for permits and eliminating fines, to plant edible fruits and vegetables in the parkways of Los Angeles, thus increasing access to sustainable food sources to inner city residents.
“At the local level, we’re experiencing the impact of our broken food system,” says Delwiche. “The work at the local level isn’t going to solve international challenges, but the local work trickles up to the state, it trickles up to the national level and there are so many opportunities for a city to improve the way that our food system operates.”