Long Beach Co-op Looks to Build Sustainable Physical and Mental Landscapes
February 5, 2015 | AJ Hughes
Ryan Serrano was 22 and freshly graduated from California State University, Long Beach, when he founded Foodscape in 2011.
The journey took a winding road toward its present incarnation. At first, Serrano immersed himself in social issues in college, and saw how food access can be a symptom of social dysfunction as well as a catalyst for social change. The key, he believes, is sustained and easy access to healthy, sustainable and affordable food.
“Food travels far,” he says. “People don’t know where their food is grown. How can we make informed decisions? We’ve lost touch with our food history.”
Serrano’s saw a need to reconnect people with their food. But he had no background with either food or agriculture. Wanting to dive in and get practical experience, he brought a ladder into his apartment complex to gain access to the roof, and before long, he had a greenhouse and nursery up there (unbeknownst to management).
This led to gardening at nearby friends’ houses, and soon, his friends became interested in what Serrano was doing. The cooperative work led to Foodscape, which found funding in April 2011 from Catalyst Network of Communities, a nonprofit. Foodscape’s first project was a produce exchange on Long Beach’s south side.
Foodscape Long Beach is looking to change landscapes—both physical and mental. Physical, in the form of more urban gardens, permaculture and sustainability. And mental, in the form of teaching long-lasting ecological skills. Its ultimate goal is food security.
In autumn 2011, Foodscape was able to tap in to a steady supply of food waste and imperfect produce from the local Whole Foods Market. These were used to plant crops and for compost.
Foodscape transformed a lawn in Long Beach from grass to garden over a two-week time period in spring 2012. The “Foodscape Your Lawn” work has gained plenty of momentum—it provides subsidized lawn-to-garden lawn transformations to spur a greater mindset of local food production.
One of Foodscape’s most significant endeavors, the Chestnut Lot project, commenced in summer 2012. Foodscape gained the right to revitalize a neglected 10,000-square foot parcel of land in downtown Long Beach, planting trees and annual crops, and uses this land for food production and teaching purposes. The Chestnut Lot is thriving for the educational and volunteer opportunities it offers, not to mention the food that it grows. And a grant received from the Downtown Long Beach Association is helping to advance these efforts even further.
Projects such as the Chestnut Lot have enabled Foodscape to publicize its good work. Staff and volunteers are able to interact with the public, meeting people face to face. They supplement this valuable in-person interaction with social media.
Serrano describes the work of Foodscape as education-based, with a focus on “food and ecological literacy.”
An example of the educational opportunities Foodscape provides is its cooperative development workshops, which teach Long Beach residents what co-ops are and how they work. And since summer 2014, Foodscape has been part of Sustainable Initiatives, a nonprofit that backs social and ecological causes and organizations.
Foodscape currently runs as a co-op, with six core people. It has been run solely by volunteers since its inception, with no paid staff. But Serrano says there are plans to move forward with paid employees. Foodscape also benefits from an internship program with California State University, Long Beach, which students can take for college credit.
Looking to the future, Serrano would like to see Foodscape’s educational outreach expand. He envisions a program centered on an urban agricultural farm in Long Beach, which would provide a vocational training program for young people which would not only teach agriculture, but also trade and business management skills.
“We’re excited about expanding programs for youth,” he says. “We’re already writing grants for it.”