In Los Angeles, CA, community members involved in the urban farming and food justice movements are keenly aware of the food insecurity that is so prevalent in its South Los Angeles neighborhoods. It was this insufficient access to healthy, nutritious food that spurred Florence Nishida to co-found LA Green Grounds, a volunteer organization that works with residents of South L.A. to convert their front lawns and parkways into edible landscapes and urban farms.
“If you have a garden in the front yard it leads to conversation, and that’s the most important thing,” says Nishida. “The minute you start growing squash, tomatoes, or something people have never seen before, they start asking questions, and that starts the conversation. Those conversations lead to a sense of community.”
Making vegetables a visible part of the community is what has guided LA Green Grounds ever since its founding in 2010.
As major league baseball teams enter the playoffs with dreams of reaching the World Series, fans are soaking in the last games of the season. I am one of these fans, who at press time, is worried about the chances of my favorite team, the San Francisco Giants, earning a Wild Card spot. While focused on baseball, I thought it was a good time for me to write about two of my favorite things: baseball and local food.
Surprisingly, there is a very direct connection between baseball and local food. Baseball stadiums do not close down once the world champion is declared. Many have developed community partnerships and programs that operate in the off-season and focus on improving nutrition and community health. That is why several big league teams including the Boston Red Sox, the Washington Nationals, and the Colorado Rockies’ have installed edible gardens that are helping to educate fans about local food systems.
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.”
Home gardening continues to grow in popularity across the country in tow with the rise of local food movement. According to the National Gardening Association, 35% of all households in America, or 42 million households, are growing food at home or in a community garden, an increase of over 17% in the past five years. However, with 63% of the American population living in cities that comprise only 3.5% of the country’s land area, many urban apartment dwellers with growing proclivities often lack access to land on which to plant even a micro garden, and have difficulty obtaining plots in crowded and oversubscribed community gardens. Fortunately, the growing challenges of apartment-dwellers haven’t gone unnoticed by urban gardening entrepreneurs, who have created a number of innovative growing systems to help city dwellers and micro-gardeners in almost any location grow their own produce. Here’s a list of five urban home growing systems worth checking out.
A public school district in Southern California is enhancing its curriculum with an interactive learning center known as “Farm Lab.”
The Encinitas Union School District is rolling out the mixed-use educational space on a donated 10-acre plot of land in the prominent horticultural hub of Encinitas, California. Central to the plan is a roughly five acre educational garden that will produce fresh organic produce for the district’s school lunch program. The lunch garden will eventually be complemented by a nutrition lab, a science lab, a maker’s lab for visiting students, an educational space for local organizations, a one acre community garden, and a one acre hands-on educational garden. The site is also bordered by a food forest that will be used to grow other organic produce for the community.
Farm Lab has been in the “pilot phase” since the end of the 2014-2015 school year and has so far leveraged its space as a tool for offering hands-on lessons and experiential learning to students at all nine elementary schools in EUSD. Farm Lab Director Mim Michelove says Farm Lab is using a “D.R.E.A.M.S.” approach to education that focuses lessons on Design, Research, Engineering, Arts, Math, and Science. The hope is that students can spend an entire day in a centralized location and experience a variety of educational activities that require more time than typical classroom lessons.