(photo credit: Cultivate LA)
When I say the words farm or farmers, what comes to mind? Usually one thinks of bucolic rural landscapes, right? That’s because traditionally and historically farming has happened on lush, open land far from cities. Well, guess what? Times have changed and farming is moving into urban areas. In Los Angeles County, urban agriculture is thriving, according to a new report from a team of graduate students at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.
The report, Cultivate L.A.: An Assessment of Urban Agriculture in L.A. County, is the first comprehensive look at farms, nurseries and gardens in L.A.
“We didn’t know where the agriculture was taking place, how many there are, what the zoning rules are, and so on,” said Stephanie Pincetl, professor and director of the California Center for Sustainable Communities at UCLA’s Institute of the Environment and Sustainability. “We had no idea because we had no hard data about urban agriculture in L.A. County. Now we will be able to answer those questions.”
A group of graduate students spent five months pouring over public records, conducting interviews and reviewing rules and regulations for all 88 municipalities in the County to put together a detailed map of all urban farms in the county and cataloging all laws and regulations governing those farms in each city.
“Previous methods have been piecemeal. We were very excited to see that gap in the research and try to uncover the discrepancies,” said Kelly Rytel, UCLA graduate student researcher.
“What we found, the most surprising part of the findings, was that the most urban agriculture that exists takes place at schools,” said Pincetl.
According to the report, there are 761 school gardens. But in all, there are a total of 1,261 verified urban ag sites—school gardens, community gardens and commercial property growing sites—in the L.A. County.
The report also says the definition for agricultural activities in municipal codes vary widely across the county, making it difficult, if not impossible, for urban famers to operate in compliance with local health and zoning regulations.
“Some are more friendly, some are less friendly. And so what we’re hoping for is that, with the increased interest in urban agriculture, someone will begin to think about maybe a model code for all cities,” said Pincetl.
The new report is intended to help city planners as they learn how to accommodate these new land uses in the nation’s most populous county. Urban farmers hope to use the research to inform others to create a more seamless infrastructure and support system for urban agriculture in L.A. County’s food ecosystem.
“We hope to provide the region with a better understanding of the urban agriculture activities taking place and show how the landscape changes over time,” said Pincetl.
“We really hope that data we collected can be the basis for future studies,” said Rytel.
These urban farms represent a great way to get fresh, locally grown food to people. It’s just one example of looking at land not just as either “rural farmland” and “urban core.” And thinking outside that box is vital to encouraging efficient land use that promotes the health of a city or regional ecosystem.
Raising awareness of the importance of working landscapes as economic, environmental and social assets are key priorities for the Working Landscapes Action Team, just one of seven teams that are part of the California Economic Summit. The 2013 Summit will take place in Los Angeles on November 7-8.