Above: the Gladys Avenue Urban Farm in Long Beach. Photo courtesy of Charles Moore.
It’s official, urban farmers.
After years of planning and research, both cities of Long Beach and Los Angeles have approved programs that are dedicated to creating urban farms, community gardens, and educational green spaces by way of their own Urban Agriculture Incentive Zone (UAIZ) Programs.
The basic gist is simple: incentivize property owners to use their land for agricultural uses for a minimum of five years while receiving a tax deduction for doing so. The benefits? Community access to fresh food, particularly in food desert neighborhoods that lack accessibility to such sustenance, providing green space, and promoting economic development.
When it comes to marginalized neighborhoods like West and North Long Beach, each in dire need of access to fresher foods, reconnecting people directly to the sources of their food becomes an essential part of urban growth. Allow them to cultivate that food themselves and an increased respect for our environment and adoration for their community increases.
“We’ve come a long way since the chickens, goats, and bees ordinance was rejected four years ago,” said Tony Damico of LB Fresh, a nonprofit dedicated to creating a local food economy that aims for accessibility and equity. “[LB Fresh co-founder] Ryan [Smolar] and I started our organization just after that because we saw a need to connect the eaters, feeders and seeders of Long Beach… To build the narrative that good food should be for everyone and to understand ways that health-smart economics are critical in building a sustainable and fair food system. The incentive zones policy, and the zoning modernization implemented alongside it, can allow the types of strategies we’ve been learning about to really take root in Long Beach.”
In other words, the 14 existing community gardens throughout the city aren’t enough—and when it comes to marginalized neighborhoods like West and North Long Beach, each in dire need of access to fresher foods, reconnecting people directly to the sources of their food becomes an essential part of urban growth. Allow them to cultivate that food themselves and an increased respect for our environment and adoration for their community increases.
Even I had written, when launching the Food Section of Longbeachize, about how I found myself “consistently brought back to the idea of food as sustenance, as community, and as form of connection. Food brings people together and, sadly, has become political by way of food deserts and limited accessibility; food is inherently connected to the ideas behind livability and new urbanism.”
Food isn’t just a thing we need to survive; it has evolved and morphed into a system of socializing, politics, and economy. Hell, even LA chefs have used gardens and mini-farms in their own Long Beach backyards to supply their restaurants with the freshest produce possible and use that as a bragging point.
The Growing Experience farm in Long Beach.
For some, particularly those in Cambodia Town, it is about creating pathways that separate their violent pasts from their potential futures.
“As a community of food producers and gardeners, we are excited to take advantage of the new ordinance, which incentivizes and legalizes urban agriculture in our neighborhoods in Central Long Beach and Cambodia Town,” said Laura Som, Director of the MAYE Center which focuses on teaching newer generations the old techniques of meditation, agriculture, yoga, and education around these subjects. “It’s a joyful act of courage for survivors of the genocide, who are locked in the stage of fear from past trauma, to stand up before city officials to fight for and bestow healthy policies upon the community and future generation.”
For others, it puts Long Beach and LA at the forefront of a trend by using our environment as it should be used (rather than abusing it or further marginalizing families): use our climate, use our resources, create economy and food simultaneously.
“There are so many positive aspects, from local jobs to greater community health, that make this a propitious moment for the future of Long Beach,” said Dave Hedden, agricultural designer at OurFoods. “I’m excited to see all the different ways we can integrate food systems into our city: from walls to rooftops to empty lots and underutilized buildings… There’s greater hope for more access and abundance that will come from local urban agriculture after this long battle.”
It has, indeed, been a lengthy process.
“We introduced this item back in May of 2016,” said 9th District Councilmember and Vice Mayor Rex Richardson at the Council meeting. “The reason it took so long to come back to this is because we were hoping it would coordinate with Agenda Item 9.”
Item 9, also approved by the Council, is the newly adopted Vacant Lot Registry Ordinace that examines how vacant lots affect, detrimentally or otherwise, neighborhoods throughout the city. With lots that have been vacant for extended periods—some being deserted for decades—this allows the city identify those lots and then incentivize their owners by creating something that benefits the community.
For Richardson, this is a win-win.
“We can approach a property owner and say, ‘Hey, here is a local agricultural group,'” Richardson said. “And that group will not only help maintain your property for you but you’ll receive a tax benefit. The two can work beautifully together.”
Amen, Rex, amen.