Second ‘Future of Food’ Field Trip Explores Community Development Endeavors in Los Angeles, CA
March 21, 2017 | Robert Puro
On Friday, March 17, Seedstock hosted the ‘Future of Food – Community Development Field Trip’, which provided attendees an excursion into the diversity of innovative food and farming ventures that have emerged to increase food access, reduce food waste, create jobs, advocate for food equity, and improve health and nutrition across Southern California. The tour was the second in a series of Seedstock ‘Future of Food’ field trips that was recently launched to facilitate the exploration of food system innovations that are generating economic and community capital. Participants were treated to lectures and sessions from experts in the fields of community gardening, urban farming, and food justice.
The trip kicked off with a stop at Lavender Hill Urban, a key project of the Los Angeles Community Garden Council (LACGC), which manages 42 community gardens in Los Angeles County. Comprised of four and half acres of land, Lavender Hill Farm is located alongside the 110 freeway near Chinatown in Los Angeles, directly behind the Solano Canyon Community Garden. It was launched to provide meaningful work for ex-cons, former addicts, and at-risk teenagers. Attendees heard from Julie Beals, executive director of the Los Angeles Community Garden Council and the organization’s co-founder Al Renner, who discussed community development efforts. “Our mission is building community through gardens,” Beals explained. She also discussed the challenges of starting and running community gardens, from soil contamination issues to managing long waitlists and finding affordable land on which to start new gardens. “We’re always looking for affordable land. All of our gardens have waiting lists,” she said. She and Renner also discussed the community benefits of gardens, from a decline in crime rates to the health benefits of working in the gardens. “Exercise as well as healthy eating is a major benefit of community gardening,” said Beals. Renner spoke to attendees about the Lavender Hill Farm program, which trains ex-cons to garden. He noted that Ex-cons, who have gone through gardening and landscaping training programs return to prison only 22% of the time versus 70% for those who do not participate in such programs.
The second stop on the field trip was L.A. Kitchen. Founded by Robert Egger in 2013, L.A. Kitchen is located in a 20,000 sq. ft., two–level processing kitchen, in NE Los Angeles. L.A. Kitchen operates Strong Food, a wholly owned, for-profit subsidiary that hires training program graduates and competes for food service contracts, with an emphasis on opportunities to serve healthy senior meals. By purchasing and reclaiming cosmetically imperfect fruits and vegetables, which would otherwise be discarded, and using them to train and create culinary jobs for unemployed men and women, we make scratch-cooked, healthy meals for the community. Egger addressed the attendees and spoke of the organization’s pioneering efforts to feed more people, in particular seniors, healthier meals for less money. ““Every single morning, 10,000 people turn 70, half the workers between 45-60 don’t have $10,000 set aside for retirement, and LA has the largest population of older people in America. There is no way you can feed this many old people every single day. I say let’s lead the way,” he said. A farm-to-fork lunch was provided and prepared by the staff at L.A. Kitchen. (The organization is looking for volunteers to work with staff to help prepare meals. If you’re interested, you can find more information here: http://www.lakitchen.org/volunteer/).
At the final stop on the tour at Edendale Grove Parish Garden, a previously vacant lot next to the Cathedral Center of St. Paul in Echo Park that has been transformed into a parish garden that supplies fresh produce to local families, attendees heard from Tim Alderson, executive director of Seeds of Hope. Alderson spoke of the efforts of Seeds of Hope, a ministry of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles, to help congregations, communities, and schools turn unused land into productive gardens and orchards to provide healthy and fresh food in areas of need across L.A. County. He noted that 80 diocesan institutions were growing food, which is being distributed to the community at 100 locations across the county. Alderson also discussed the organization’s garden-based nutrition classes and efforts to teach congregants and community members how to cook nutritious meals. “Over the past year we have provided nutrition education to over 5,000 people at more than 250 nutrition and cooking classes,” said Alderson.
If you were unable to attend the tour, don’t fret. The third in the ‘Future of Food’ field trip series will take place in May. Stay tuned for details.