In Fight Against Food Poverty, L.A. Kitchen Embraces Imperfect Fruit and Intergenerational Workforce

Robert Egger, founder of L.A. Kitchen

Robert Egger, founder and CEO of L.A. Kitchen, a non-profit in Los Angeles that engages, empowers, and nourishes the local community. Photo Courtesy of L.A. Kitchen. Photo Credit: J Wiley Photography.

Fighting hunger is more than just about food for Robert Egger, founder and CEO of L.A. Kitchen, a non-profit in Los Angeles that engages, empowers, and nourishes the local community “by reclaiming healthy, local food that would otherwise be discarded, training men and women who are unemployed for jobs, and providing healthy meals to fellow citizens,” according to the organizations mission statement.

“Fighting hunger is a political act, a social act, an economic act,” says Egger. “I want to be a source and develop a model that shows how you can feed more people a better meal with less money.”

L.A. Kitchen is modeled after Egger’s first enterprise, D.C. Central Kitchen in Washington D.C. A chance experience of accompanying friends to feed the homeless there highlighted some inadequacies Egger couldn’t ignore, such as purchasing the food when so many people in the food industry he knew lamented over wasting food at the end of the night. Read more

LA Compost Breaks through Concrete Jungle to Connect People with Soil

For LA Compost, responsible food use and consumption doesn’t end with farm-to-table practices. The Los Angeles-based non-profit organization supports maintaining the total loop within the story of food, which largely includes compost.

“Healthy soil translates into healthy food, and healthy food leads to healthy people. Composting is just as valuable as any of the other processes,” says Michael Martinez, the Executive Director of LA Compost.

In early 2013, Martinez and other founding members started LA Compost as a food waste diversion service, transporting organic waste from four different cities to composting centers by bike.

“We had a goal of reconnecting people with their food,” Martinez says. “We started composting scraps, coffee grounds, and organics from businesses, restaurants, and residents locally.”

Within five months, more than 15 riders had diverted 30,000 pounds of organic materials from landfills for composting, according to the organization’s website. However, the size and scope of Los Angeles required a more streamlined and centralized approach than the bike collections. So, in 2014, the organization began setting up composting “hubs” around Los Angeles County for people within neighboring communities to use.

Martinez explains that at the hubs, “members of the community come, weigh their scraps, record and enter the information, and place and cover the scraps in the compost pile. Each month, interns or volunteers turn the piles or retrieve the compost that is ready for use by the community.”

Currently, the organization has eight hubs in various locations across the county, including schools, museums, and community gardens.

The hubs also serve as platforms for workshops and workday events to help educate community members, especially children, about the basics of composting either at home or in a community. This educational component is a priority for LA Compost and was the catalyst for the initial idea after Martinez saw how disconnected his fifth-grade students were from food at the school where he taught in Miami.

“We started a school garden, and it was incredible the transformation that took place,” says Martinez. “The kids were blown away by seeing food coming from the ground for the first time and appreciated the whole cycle of seeing it go from seed to harvest. They were proud of being part of something larger than themselves.”

Although inspired by this experience, Martinez wanted to focus on soil when he returned home to Los Angeles.

“We wanted to get people talking about the importance of not wasting food and seeing it as a valuable resource that can help get food to those who actually need it,” Martinez says. “There was little conversation as far as where food goes after the table and kitchen experience, and compost was kind of the great equalizer or missing puzzle piece in the conversation.”

The conversation about composting is picking up, and policymakers are becoming one of the voices. In 2014, state lawmakers passed AB1826, a bill that requires businesses and multiple-family residential properties creating 4 cubic feet or more of organic waste to arrange for recycling services. Although this law will benefit LA Compost down the road, as the amount requirements continue to reduce, there is currently no infrastructure in LA County to process these materials on a large scale, according to Martinez.

“Currently, our approach is more of a local decentralized model,” says Martinez. “We do see ourselves being one of those solutions for businesses and restaurants to become compliant with these laws in the future.”

Martinez says that other restrictions locally and at the state level regulate how much you can compost onsite and transport to other locations, which makes things a bit difficult. However, he feels positive that these barriers will not stop the momentum LA Compost has built over the last few years.

“The laws are changing and becoming a bit more flexible to allow organizations like ours to actually function. They [policymakers] are going to have to start looking at alternative solutions to the infrastructure in place at the moment,” says Martinez. “I feel like our hubs will be part of the solution going forward. The need and demand are there, and we’re working our best to meet them.”

LA Compost is looking to open 10 new hubs in Los Angeles County in 2017 and will continue to provide educational workshops at hub locations and at supporting business locations.

For Homeless in Santa Cruz, CA, Garden Project Offers Hope, Stability, and Jobs

Talking about the homeless population of America is popular these days. And yet fixing the situation seems, to many, an impossibly overwhelming task. Others are proving it’s not. The Santa Cruz Homeless Garden Project (HGP) uses sustainable agriculture as the springboard to a safer, productive and more hopeful life for many. The agriculture and gardening training provided to the homeless of Santa Cruz County through the project has culminated in both jobs and permanent housing for its trainees.

“We find people that express much greater degrees of well being after they are with us for a year, whether it’s in their diet, in their sense of self, in their ability to set goals and achieve them, in how connected they feel to the community,” says Darrie Ganzhorn Executive Director of the Homeless Garden Project.

Established in 1990, the HGP was the brainchild of Paul Lee, a member of the Citizens Committee on Homelessness. Lee began spending nights along with other board members in the homeless shelter.

“He noticed that when he woke up in the morning that there was a lot of raw energy and he wondered how could anyone dream of something better and dream of a better future without having safety and beauty during their day? So he had an idea for a garden,” says Ganzhorn. “Somebody donated a whole lot of herb starts to him and he thought ‘well I have to do my homeless garden project now.’”

The “garden” is an organic farm that occupies 3.5 acres of leased vacant land on the west side of Santa Cruz. In-ground farming using biodynamic French intensive methods is split between growing seasonal vegetables with strawberries as a specialty and growing lavender and other flowering plants. After drying, the lavender becomes a main ingredient in the value-added products trainees create during the winter months and sell alongside produce in their virtual and online stores.

Beyond offering a very tactile pick your own program and using the vegetables grown by the homeless and their helpers to create CSA baskets (the CSA program began in 1992, first in the county), the HGP provides agriculture training and transitional employment to the homeless, assisting in housing and permanent jobs. “In the last two graduating classes 96 percent of our people got into jobs and housing,” says Ganzhorn.

HGP provides two main training programs. The Natural Bridges Farm Program teaches participants how to grow, harvest, and sell organic produce and flowers. The Women’s Organic Flower Enterprise teaches flower drying skills, showing how to turn products from the garden into value-added products in the HGP store. Trainees are paid for their time, and interns and community volunteers provide additional work hours. Part of the work involves running the farm stand and preparing orders for HGP’s CSA baskets.

The trainees are the core of the project and the impact of the program is both physical as well as psychological. With an abusive past, complex PTSD and at risk for becoming homeless, 19-year-old Kathleen Groves found meaning through the project. “A new sense of direction and purpose flowed through my life and internal barriers that once seemed impenetrable gave way. For the first time in my life, I felt open, free and capable. I have become free to express myself and grounded in my choices,” says Groves. “I have found stable housing and am working to become a tutor. I have a sense of security and peace now, a foundation upon which I can firmly stand.”

27-year-old Marine veteran Shannon McGurk left jail and drugs behind him when he entered sober living housing and joined the trainee program. “I knew next to nothing about farming or gardening before I started working here, and I learn more every day,” says McGurk. “I’m very grateful to have this program in my life and if every county had a program like it, it would de-stigmatize homelessness statewide, maybe then, the nation. The farm as a whole is a perfect marriage of freedom and structure, and is one of the best things in my life today.”

Initially engaging the homeless is the most challenging part of the process according to Ganzhorn. Word of mouth among trainees plays a large role as does sharing goals with the nonprofit community network. “We have 17 positions that are paid by our program and our goal is to double that over the next five years to 34 positions,” says Ganzhorn. “We’re also working with another agency called Second Career Employment Program and we have a few people that work with us through their program, and we’re getting ready to work with CalWORKs.”

By engaging with other service providers the HGP team assists trainees in finding landlords to fill their housing credits and transition to permanent positions. A local garden nursery has provided several employment opportunities for the once unemployable. A permanent address both administratively as well as physically prevents many homeless people from entering the employment system. The HGP allows trainees to use their address while they are transitioning.

For Ganzhorn, the program’s success grows from the roots. “There’s something about food that just breaks down people’s reserve. They throw themselves head long into it and fall in love with farming and the garden and our work.”

Future plans for HGP include program expansion and finding more ways to engage the homeless population to increase the positive impact of the program.

California Dept. of Food and Ag Secretary Karen Ross to Keynote Grow Local OC Conference; Event Kicks off in 9 Days

California Dept. of Food and Agriculture Secretary Karen Ross will Keynote 'Future of Urban Food Systems Conference' on November 10-11, 2016 at Cal State Fullerton. Photo courtesy of CDFA.

California Dept. of Food and Agriculture Secretary Karen Ross will Keynote ‘Future of Urban Food Systems Conference’ on November 10-11, 2016 at Cal State Fullerton. Photo courtesy of CDFA.

The organizers of the upcoming Grow Local OC: Future of Urban Food Systems Conference are incredibly excited to have Karen Ross, Secretary of the California Dept. and Food Agriculture deliver the conference’s keynote address, which will explore the importance of agriculture and the development of robust local food systems in cities.

Secretary Ross, whom Politico recently reported is at the top of presidential candidate Hilary Clinton’s USDA Ag Secretary list, will discuss how cities and urban oriented counties across California, and beyond, can develop greater capacity for urban ag and innovative growing endeavors, work more effectively with regional growers, increase food security and access, create an equitable food system in Orange County and SoCal, and more!

Secretary Ross was appointed Secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture on January 12, 2011, by Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. The Secretary has deep leadership experience in agricultural issues nationally, internationally, and here in California. Prior to joining CDFA, Secretary Ross was chief of staff for U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, a position she accepted in 2009.

Secretary Ross is passionate about fostering the reconnection of consumers to the land and the people who produce their food, and to improving the access of all California citizens to healthy, nutritious California-grown agricultural products, celebrated for their diversity and abundance in serving local, national and global markets.

The Grow Local OC Conferenceslated for Nov. 10 – 11, 2016, at California State University, Fullerton (Hosted by U-ACRE), is only 9 DAYS away. Limited tickets remain for the conference day, so grab your tickets now to hear Secretary Ross’s address!

Register Now!

 http://growlocaloc.eventbrite.com

 

Additional Conference Details:

Day 1 – Conference Day 

Day 1 (Nov. 10) of the conference, attendees will convene at the Portola Pavilion at California State University, Fullerton in Orange County, CA for a series of panels and keynotes that will address such topic areas as:

  • Urban farming and its role in expanding local food access, benefiting community and growing local economies;
  • How hydroponic and indoor growers utilize sustainability, embrace innovative business models and push the limits of agricultural technology to expand the local food marketplace;
  • Local food policy;
  • The benefits of community and school gardens, and more!

Full Program: http://growlocaloc.com/conference/program

Confirmed Speakers:

Rishi Kumar – Co-founder and Director of The Growing Club
Rachel Surls – Sustainable Food Systems Advisor for UC Cooperative Extension
Tim Alderson – Executive Director at Seeds of Hope
Ed Horton – President and CEO of Urban Produce LLC
Kimi McAdam – Asst. Dept. Administrator for Food & Nutrition Service at Kaiser Permanente
Glenn Tanaka – Owner of Tanaka Farms
Derek Lutz – Asst. Vice President at American AgCredit
Mark Lowry – Director of the Orange County Food Bank
Rickey Smith – Founder, Urban Green
Colin Archipley – Co-founders of Archi’s Acres and the AISA Program
Chef Adam Navidi – Founder, Future Foods Farms and Oceans & Earth Restaurant
Frank Fitzpatrick – Owner, 5 Bar Beef
Christina Hall – Executive Director of OC Food Access Coalition
Megan Penn – Executive Director of Orange Home Grown
Sonora Ortiz – Market Manager, Downtown Santa Ana Farmers’ Market
Aaron Fox – Asst. Professor, Urban & Community Agriculture at Cal Poly Pomona
Chris Higgins – General Manager at Hort Americas
Jeremy Samson – Chair of Slow Food OC
Anna Maria Desipris – The Ecology Center/Honeybee Hub
Erik Cutter – Managing Director of Alegria Fresh
Dwight Detter – Executive Director, Slow Money SoCal
Sara E. Johnson – Director of the Urban Agriculture Community-based Research Experience (U-ACRE) program

Register Now!

 http://growlocaloc.eventbrite.com

 

Day 2 – Future Farm Field Trip (SOLD OUT!)

The Future Farm Field Trip on Day 2 (Nov. 11) of the conference offers an excursion into the diversity of urban and state-of-the-art hydroponic and aquaponic agriculture operations in Orange County. Tour participants will be treated to lectures and sessions from pioneering farmers who are embracing innovative business models and growing systems to both increase food security and take advantage of the escalating demand for local food.

Presently scheduled stops include:

  • Urban Produce LLC – an indoor vertical farming operation based in Irvine, California that uses advanced hydroponic technologies in a controlled environment. Urban Produce currently grows and sells organic microgreens that are available throughout southern California
  • The Riverbed – an aquaponics community farm in Anaheim, California that uses minimal water to operate and produce over 2,000 pounds of food for underserved residents.
  • Alegría Farm – an urban farm that supports more than 60 cultivators growing over 50,000 plants utilizing hydroponic and natural, nutrient-dense configurations. The farm’s resource-efficient technologies demonstrate how urban microfarms can supply communities with locally grown, fresh produce while reducing transportation and preserving natural resources.
  • Future Foods Farms – one of the largest aquaponic farms in the state, Future Foods Farms is located on 25 acres in Brea, California. The farm produces all organically grown products in several 2,000-4,000 square-feet greenhouses.

Register Now!

 http://growlocaloc.eventbrite.com

Just Two Weeks Remain to Register for ‘Grow Local OC: Future of Urban Food Systems Conference’

grow-local-oc-conference-urban-farming-local-food-systems

The Grow Local OC: Future of Urban Food Systems Conference presented by Seedstock in partnership with the OC Food Access Coalition is only TWO WEEKS away. Slated for Nov. 10 – 11, 2016, at California State University, Fullerton (Hosted by U-ACRE), the conference will explore the community and economic development potential of fostering local food systems in cities.

Below is a summary of the conference details:

Day 1 – Conference Day 

Day 1 (Nov. 10) of the conference, attendees will convene at the Portola Pavilion at California State University, Fullerton in Orange County, CA for a series of panels and keynotes that will address such topic areas as:

  • Urban farming and its role in expanding local food access, benefiting community and growing local economies;
  • How hydroponic and indoor growers utilize sustainability, embrace innovative business models and push the limits of agricultural technology to expand the local food marketplace;
  • Local food policy;
  • The benefits of community and school gardens, and more!

Full Program: http://growlocaloc.com/conference/program

Confirmed Speakers:

Karen Ross – Secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture
Rishi Kumar – Co-founder and Director of The Growing Club
Rachel Surls – Sustainable Food Systems Advisor for UC Cooperative Extension
Tim Alderson – Executive Director at Seeds of Hope
Ed Horton – President and CEO of Urban Produce LLC
Kimi McAdam – Asst. Dept. Administrator for Food & Nutrition Service at Kaiser Permanente
Glenn Tanaka – Owner of Tanaka Farms
Derek Lutz – Asst. Vice President at American AgCredit
Mark Lowry – Director of the Orange County Food Bank
Rickey Smith – Founder, Urban Green
Colin and Karen Archipley – Co-founders of Archi’s Acres and the VSAT Program
Chef Adam Navidi – Founder, Future Foods Farms and Oceans & Earth Restaurant
Frank Fitzpatrick – Owner, 5 Bar Beef
Christina Hall – Executive Director of OC Food Access Coalition
Megan Penn – Executive Director of Orange Home Grown
Sonora Ortiz – Market Manager, Downtown Santa Ana Farmers’ Market
Aaron Fox – Asst. Professor, Urban & Community Agriculture at Cal Poly Pomona
Chris Higgins – General Manager at Hort Americas
Jeremy Samson – Chair of Slow Food OC
Anna Maria Desipris – The Ecology Center/Honeybee Hub
Erik Cutter – Managing Director of Alegria Fresh
Dwight Detter – Executive Director, Slow Money SoCal
Sara E. Johnson – Director of the Urban Agriculture Community-based Research Experience (U-ACRE) program

Register Now!

 http://growlocaloc.eventbrite.com

 

Day 2 – Future Farm Field Trip (SOLD OUT!)

The Future Farm Field Trip on Day 2 (Nov. 11) of the conference offers an excursion into the diversity of urban and state-of-the-art hydroponic and aquaponic agriculture operations in Orange County. Tour participants will be treated to lectures and sessions from pioneering farmers who are embracing innovative business models and growing systems to both increase food security and take advantage of the escalating demand for local food.

Presently scheduled stops include:

  • Urban Produce LLC – an indoor vertical farming operation based in Irvine, California that uses advanced hydroponic technologies in a controlled environment. Urban Produce currently grows and sells organic microgreens that are available throughout southern California
  • The Riverbed – an aquaponics community farm in Anaheim, California that uses minimal water to operate and produce over 2,000 pounds of food for underserved residents.
  • Alegría Farm – an urban farm that supports more than 60 cultivators growing over 50,000 plants utilizing hydroponic and natural, nutrient-dense configurations. The farm’s resource-efficient technologies demonstrate how urban microfarms can supply communities with locally grown, fresh produce while reducing transportation and preserving natural resources.
  • Future Foods Farms – one of the largest aquaponic farms in the state, Future Foods Farms is located on 25 acres in Brea, California. The farm produces all organically grown products in several 2,000-4,000 square-feet greenhouses.

Register Now!

 http://growlocaloc.eventbrite.com

 

Thank you to our sponsors:
Kaiser Permanente
Garden Tower Project
U-ACRE
OC Food Access Coalition
Bright Agrotech
Grow-Tech LLC
American AgCredit
Agra Tech, Inc.
Dosatron
Oceans & Earth
Tender Greens
UC Irvine
Orange Home Grown
Association for Vertical Farming

The Community Development Potential of Embracing Local Food Systems

How do you increase community involvement in the consumption, embrace, and production of local food? How does a city, or county, benefit from the development of community and school gardens? What is the role of a farmers’ market in community development beyond offering a location where farmers can sell direct to the public? What benefits do farmers’ markets confer to the community and economy?

To learn the answer to these questions, and more, you won’t want to miss the ‘The Community Development Potential of Embracing Local Food Systems’ panel at the upcoming Grow Local OC: Future of Local Food Systems slated for Nov. 10 at California State University, Fullerton. The following expert speakers will address the impact of farmers’ markets, community and school gardens, and community engagement around local food:

tim_alderson_12Tim Alderson is the Executive Director of Seeds of Hope, the food justice ministry of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles, which grows and distributes food in over 100 communities of need across six Southern California counties. His lifetime in agriculture has included nearly 20 years as CEO of AgriGator, Inc., a multi-national soil amendment manufacturer, as well as numerous industry boards including the board of directors of the National Agri-Marketing Association. He was the founding chairman of the California School Garden Network and was appointed by two California governors to the board of the Schools Agriculture and Nutrition Program where he currently serves as President. He was also appointed to the California Department of Education School Garden Advisory Committee. Tim lives in Pasadena, California where he has served as Chairman of the city’s Recreation and Parks Commission and the Mayor’s Workforce Housing Task Force.

sonora-ortiz-boatSonora Ortiz is the manager of the Downtown Santa Ana Farmers’ Market, a culinary and nutrition educator, farmer, and future astrobiologist. They work all over the world but are currently back home in Orange County to help transform the local food system. Sonora draws from permaculture and Transitions principles to guide their work with an emphasis on accessibility and community collaboration.

 
 
 

megan-pennMegan Penn – Born and raised in the City of Orange, CA, Megan truly knows the meaning of “homegrown”. She is a graduate of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, and holds a BS in City and Regional Planning with an emphasis in Urban Design. Megan spent 12 years as an accomplished Urban Planner and Senior Project Manager before venturing into the position of Executive Director for the grassroots driven Orange Home Grown (OHG) organization. As a co-founder of Orange Home Grown Inc., which started in 2009, she is passionate about providing access to locally grown food, works to improve the local food system through education, and develops opportunities that create “community” here in Orange County. Megan holds a position on the City of Orange Community Development Block Grant Committee and is a board member for the Pitcher Park Foundation. Megan is a wife and mother and enjoys growing food at home and raising backyard chickens.

jeremy-samsonJeremy Samson is an Urban Farmer who works with several different organizations to improve the food system in Orange County with gardens. He is Co-director of Cultivate Together, a non-profit focused on facilitating the creation and sustainability of neighborhood farms and community garden spaces. As an Orange County Master Gardener he is a member of the Speakers Bureau that teaches gardening classes around the county. After attending the Edible School Yard Academy in Berkeley last year, he now serves on the School Garden Team for the Master Gardeners and as the Slow Food Orange County Garden chair. Jeremy also owns a small landscape design and consultation business specializing in edible and drought tolerant landscaping with an emphasis on resource conservation and wildlife habitat.

rickey-smithRickey Smith is founder and principal of Urban Green LLC, a social entrepreneurship dedicated to restoring, developing and promoting “green space” within the communities it serves. Urban Green LLC was designed upon Rickey’s philosophy of Circular Synergy, which seeks to establish a CLEAR path connecting the inter-disciplines of Cuisine, Land-use, Environment, and Architecture into Renewable cycles of self-reliant communities. As a youth, Rickey worked the land upon his family’s rural property in Wartrace, Tennessee. He received his Bachelor in Business from University of Tennessee, Knoxville and a MFA in Visual Anthropology/Cinema from University of Southern California.

Register Now!

http://growlocaloc.eventbrite.com

California Amends Law to Allow Seed Libraries to Freely Share Noncommercial Seeds

Photo by Rick Proser. CC BY-SA 3.0.

Photo by Rick Proser. CC BY-SA 3.0.

Marking the most recent victory in a growing nationwide movement to promote the legality of seed libraries, The Seed Exchange Democracy Act (Assembly Bill 1810) was signed into law in California on September 9, 2016. The bill amends the “seed law” chapter of the state’s Food and Agricultural Code to expressly exempt seed libraries from onerous seed testing and labeling requirements. While necessary to protect buyers and consumers of commercial seeds, the impracticality of these requirements for community seed libraries would effectively cause them to shutter. California follows Minnesota, Nebraska and Illinois as the fourth state in the last 18 months to adopt laws favorable to seed sharing libraries.

Neil Thapar, a food and farm attorney at the Sustainable Economies Law Center (SELC) in Oakland, California who helped launch and draft the bill, explained how seed libraries work. “Seed libraries are essentially community-based initiatives where people can borrow seeds, plant them, and at the end of the season take back some seeds to replenish the seed stock at the library for other people to borrow.” He continues, “There really isn’t any ownership over those seeds. They’re held and stewarded by the library, but they’re shared freely throughout the community.”

According to David King, Chair of the Seed Library of Los Angeles (SLOLA), who advocated for AB 1810 alongside Thapar, the two key aims of all seeds libraries are to increase biodiversity through local seed saving and sharing, and to alleviate food insecurity. “I recall my grandfather saving his own seeds, and I recall those seeds were passed on to other people, to other generations,” says King. “And we’ve lost that. My generation didn’t hand down seeds to their children—we got off the farm, we quit gardening. But now as an older person I see the loss of diversity and I know the only way we can get it back is to grow these seeds, and care for these seeds as much as we would care for our dogs or cats, or even our children. It’s a sacred duty, it’s a sacred trust.”

Thapar and King cite the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture’s notice to the Simpson Seed Library in Mechanicsburg, PA in 2014 as inspiring their efforts to become involved in the campaign to amend California seed law. The notice informed the library that it was in violation of the state’s Seed Act of 2004, which required routine testing of large quantities of seeds according to commercial testing guidelines. As the library lacked the resources to comply, it was reduced to distributing only seeds that were commercially packaged, or hosting swap days where individuals could exchange seeds with each other without donating them to the library.

The incident in Pennsylvania sent shockwaves across seed libraries nationwide, and prompted King and SELC to delve into existing seed laws in states across the country, including California.

“Most of those laws that govern seeds were considered between the 1930s and 1950s,” explains King. “Nobody at that time envisioned the idea of a seed library. They were written in answer to the fact that you had hucksters giving farmers bad seeds, or old seed, just trying to make a quick buck. So the seed salesman makes his money, but the farmer is left with a crop that’s not saleable and so he’s ruined. That was part of why the law was written to exclude almost any transfer of seed from person to person. So the laws just don’t fit the current situation.”

King adds that particularly problematic for seed libraries in California was AB 2470, adopted into law in 2014, which forbade sharing of seeds from farther away than three miles unless they were tested and labeled under commercial standards. AB 1810’s passage allows for noncommercial seed sharing to occur anywhere in the state without the need to comply with commercial testing and labeling regulations.

The bill encountered some speedbumps along the way. “It ended up being more controversial than we expected,” says Thapar. Potential threats posed by seed sharing were raised, including the introduction and proliferation of weed seeds or invasive plant species, illegal sharing of patented seeds, low seed viability or germination percentages, and contamination or cross-pollination of seeds.

King and Thapar contend that cross-pollination is the only realistic concern for seed libraries, since many libraries have open membership and participants come with varying levels of experience. But both explain that most seed libraries aspire to educate people as to how to properly plant and save seeds. “That’s the promise and the opportunity of seed libraries,” says Thapar. “Master gardeners oftentimes work with or offer advice to seed libraries, and the libraries offer people, mostly who aren’t farmers, which is most of the people in our country, the opportunity to reconnect with that skill and that familiarity with how plants grow. And the idea is that people are going to make mistakes; it’s not that there will not be some cross-pollination that will happen in the garden of someone who then takes that seed to a seed library. It’s that the effect of that cross-pollination is not going to be a threat to agriculture, and is going to at the same time be a great learning experience for that person about how to hand-pollinate better the next year.”

With over 500 seed lending libraries now open worldwide, and many of those in the U.S., SELC encourages individuals in other states to become actively involved in researching and, if needed, amending laws to support unencumbered seed sharing. As for state laws already favorable to seed sharing, Thapar notes, “The only ones I know of that I would say are ‘good’ as-is are in North Carolina and Alabama. North Carolina has an existing exemption for nonprofits, so that would support most seed sharing, because most seed sharing that happens in an organized fashion is usually hosted by some sort of nonprofit. And in Alabama, they have a really great exemption for anybody who sells up to $3,000 worth of seeds that they grew themselves, annually. So they exempt not just seed sharing, but if you sell a small quantity or small dollar value of seeds, you are also exempt from some of the provisions of the law.”

SELC moderates a Seed Law Toolshed, an open-source, crowdsourced database with links to state seed laws. Thapar encourages everyone to check out and contribute to the database.

Those interested in tracking seed sharing advocacy efforts nationwide can follow the development of law and policy on SELC’s “Save Seed Sharing Campaign” website.

Finally, Thapar underscores the vital role of community organizations and individuals in shaping law and policy on seed sharing. “The value that lawyers add [in grassroots efforts] are as technical advisers or advocates that can read legislative language or have experience doing policy and can offer some kind of strategy for setting up a legislative campaign,” Thapar says. “Generally, my take on policies based on the experience I’ve had in the last few years is that it’s more effective when people who are actually going to be harmed by or benefit from the policy advocate for it.”


This article originally appeared on Seedstock: http://seedstock.com/2016/09/20/california-amends-law-to-protect-seed-libraries-ability-to-freely-share-noncommercial-seeds/

Only Four Weeks Remain Until ‘Grow Local OC: Future of Urban Food Systems Conference’

conference-speakers-and-field-trip-destinations

(left to right) Rishi Kumar, urban farmer and co-founder of The Growing Club; A view of Urban Produce’s high density vertical farming system in Irvine, CA; Karen Ross, Secretary, California Dept. of Food and Agriculture; The Riverbed aquaponic community farm in Anaheim, CA; Tim Alderson, executive director of Seeds of Hope.

The Grow Local OC: Future of Urban Food Systems Conference presented by Seedstock in partnership with the OC Food Access Coalition is only FOUR WEEKS away. Scheduled for Nov. 10 – 11, 2016, at California State University, Fullerton (Hosted by U-ACRE), the conference will explore the community and economic development potential of fostering local food systems in cities. The conference organizers are offering a Seed Saver Special Ticket Price for the next two weeks, so be sure  to register soon to take advantage of the discount.

Below is a summary of the conference details:

Day 1 – Conference Day 

Day 1 (Nov. 10) of the conference, attendees will convene at the Portola Pavilion at California State University, Fullerton in Orange County, CA for a series of panels and keynotes that will address such topic areas as:

  • Urban farming and its role in expanding local food access, benefiting community and growing local economies;
  • How hydroponic and indoor growers utilize sustainability, embrace innovative business models and push the limits of agricultural technology to expand the local food marketplace;
  • Local food policy;
  • The benefits of community and school gardens, and more!

The day will be anchored by a keynote address from Karen Ross, Secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture, on the importance of agriculture and local food systems in cities.

Confirmed Speakers:

Karen Ross – Secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture
Rachel Surls – Sustainable Food Systems Advisor for UC Cooperative Extension
Tim Alderson – Executive Director at Seeds of Hope
Glenn Tanaka – Owner of Tanaka Farms
Derek Lutz – Asst. Vice President at American AgCredit
Kimi McAdam – Asst. Dept. Administrator for Food & Nutrition Service at Kaiser Permanente
Mark Lowry – Director of the Orange County Food Bank
Ed Horton – President and CEO of Urban Produce LLC
Colin and Karen Archipley – Co-founders of Archi’s Acres and the VSAT Program
Chef Adam Navidi – Founder, Future Foods Farms and Oceans & Earth Restaurant
Frank Fitzpatrick – Owner, 5 Bar Beef
Rishi Kumar – Co-founder and Director of The Growing Club
Christina Hall – Executive Director of OC Food Access Coalition
Megan Penn – Executive Director of Orange Home Grown
Sonora Ortiz – Market Manager, Downtown Santa Ana Farmers’ Market
Aaron Fox – Asst. Professor, Urban & Community Agriculture at Cal Poly Pomona
Chris Higgins – General Manager at Hort Americas
Jeremy Samson – Chair of Slow Food OC
Anna Maria Desipris – The Ecology Center/Honeybee Hub
Erik Cutter – Managing Director of Alegria Fresh
Dwight Detter – Executive Director, Slow Money SoCal
Sara E. Johnson – Director of the Urban Agriculture Community-based Research Experience (U-ACRE) program at Cal State Fullerton

Grab your Seed Saver Special Ticket here:

http://growlocaloc.eventbrite.com

 

Day 2 – Future Farm Field Trip

The Future Farm Field Trip on Day 2 (Nov. 11) of the conference offers an excursion into the diversity of urban and state-of-the-art hydroponic and aquaponic agriculture operations in Orange County. Tour participants will be treated to lectures and sessions from pioneering farmers who are embracing innovative business models and growing systems to both increase food security and take advantage of the escalating demand for local food.

Presently scheduled stops include:

  • Urban Produce LLC – an indoor vertical farming operation based in Irvine, California that uses advanced hydroponic technologies in a controlled environment. Urban Produce currently grows and sells organic microgreens that are available throughout southern California
  • The Riverbed – an aquaponics community farm in Anaheim, California that uses minimal water to operate and produce over 2,000 pounds of food for underserved residents.
  • Alegría Farm – an urban farm that supports more than 60 cultivators growing over 50,000 plants utilizing hydroponic and natural, nutrient-dense configurations. The farm’s resource-efficient technologies demonstrate how urban microfarms can supply communities with locally grown, fresh produce while reducing transportation and preserving natural resources.
  • Future Foods Farms – one of the largest aquaponic farms in the state, Future Foods Farms is located on 25 acres in Brea, California. The farm produces all organically grown products in several 2,000-4,000 square-feet greenhouses.

A limited number of Seed Saver Special tickets remain.

Register Now!

 http://growlocaloc.eventbrite.com

 

Thank you to our sponsors:
Kaiser Permanente
Garden Tower Project
U-ACRE
OC Food Access Coalition
Grow-Tech LLC
American AgCredit
Agra Tech, Inc.
Dosatron
Oceans & Earth
Tender Greens
UC Irvine
Orange Home Grown
Association for Vertical Farming

Building Communities through Gardening

The Manzanita Street Community Garden in Los Angeles, CA. Photo courtesy of the Los Angeles Community Garden Council.

The Manzanita Street Community Garden in Los Angeles, CA. Photo courtesy of the Los Angeles Community Garden Council.

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.” Read more

Q&A: Mark Lowry on the Importance of Fresh Fruits and Vegetables and Local Food Production for OC Food Bank

Mark Lowry, director of the OC Food Bank, a program of the Community Action Partnership of Orange County. Photo Courtesy of OC Food Bank.

Mark Lowry, director of the OC Food Bank, a program of the Community Action Partnership of Orange County. Photo Courtesy of OC Food Bank.

Mark Lowry, director of the OC Food Bank in Garden Grove, California, runs the Food Bank like his life depends on it. That’s probably because Lowry knows how important a well-stocked food bank is for low-income and food deprived community members in Orange County.

Lowry and OC Food Bank,a program of the Community Action Partnership of Orange County (CAPOC), work with nearly 400 local charities, soup kitchens, and community organizations to end hunger and malnutrition in the county. Annually, the OC Food Bank distributes more than 20 million pounds of donated food, USDA commodities, and purchased food to non-profit agencies in Orange County that serve low-income families and individuals.

Grow Local OC recently had the pleasure of speaking to Lowry about the state of the OC Food Bank, its growing reliance on and distribution of fresh and local produce, the importance of statewide and local Orange County partnerships in strengthening the food bank, and more!

Grow Local OC: What is the current state of the OC Food Bank? What challenges and opportunities are you encountering?

Mark Lowry: At the OC Food Bank, and food banks all across America, there’s been a decrease in the donation of canned and dry goods. In the past, we often got something from a food manufacturer, wholesaler, or distributor because someone made a mistake in manufacturing, etc. Over time, businesses have become better at doing what they are supposed to do—become more efficient. There have been fewer of those mistakes that turn into donations. At about the same time, the secondary food market increased—goods that sit on a shelf at a mainstream supermarket get pulled and sent to grocery store outlets, etc.—in the past, those products would have gone to food banks.

But in California and at our Food Bank, we’ve been focused on getting more fresh fruits and vegetables. That is a response to the decline of canned and dried good donations. The state produces 60 percent of America’s fresh fruit and vegetables. We’re working with the California Association of Food Banks and have developed an effective program for providing a more consistent supply of fresh fruits and vegetables throughout the state.

Grow Local OC: What impact do food banks have on regional and local food systems, and farmers?

Mark Lowry: Food banks for major and minor producers are an outlet for surplus.

The California Association of Food Banks established the Farm to Family program eight years ago. The Association began visiting farmers throughout California. Farmers had long donated their surplus, but the Food Bank Association proposed to build a system where food banks would have consistent access to fruits and vegetables. The farmers were interested, but wanted some money for their work because sometimes, farmers would leave produce in their fields if it didn’t meet industry specs. So, they’d have to pay a crew to go back and pick the #2s. Or maybe the farmers were already picking the #2s, but selling those to the pie filling, juice, or jam and jelly people. The farmers were happy to sell produce to the Association, but for a modest price—usually that averages two-12 cents a pound.

Now there is a large program that allows food banks like ours to order based on California’s harvest season. While it costs food banks an amount of money, it also creates jobs. Some farm workers are going back to their fields and picking up stuff that wouldn’t have been picked. And in some cases, the goods would have been discarded and are diverted from the waste stream.

Seedstock: Can you tell us about any statewide and local partnerships that help support the OC Food Bank?

Mark Lowry: Statewide, we work with the California Association of Food Banks. It has helped develop the Farm to Family program. Initially, we focused on fresh fruits and vegetables. But we’ve recognized a couple things: California’s agricultural industry is much bigger than fresh fruits and vegetables. They are looking to expand to include things like eggs.

Locally, we’ve got some great partners. One is A.G. Kawamura, a third-generation, Orange County, Japanese-American farmer. He’s a great leader in progressive agricultural practices. He is the co-owner of Orange County Produce, along with his brother, Matt Kawamura. They’ve done many things, but here’s one example.

Kawamura wanted to build a community farm in the City of Irvine on a parcel of land that the city had. They said the land wasn’t zoned for agricultural use. He came back with a counterproposal called the Incredible Edible Park. He would build a park, but everything in that park would be edible. It was relocated about two years ago, but for many years, in Irvine, there’s been the Incredible Edible Park.

Also in Irvine: the city took over the closed, 4,800-acre El Toro Marine Air Station. We met with the chairman of the Orange County Great Park board of directors to discuss the issue of hunger in the community. Also, before the facility was a military base, it had been a farm 75-80 years ago. Returning some of that land to its original agricultural use had historic appeal. The chairman of the board said they’d set aside some acres for permanent agricultural use to honor Orange County’s agricultural heritage. We proposed to make some acreage available to a local farmer. It would be free or substantially below market rate in exchange for an agreement that the farmer would provide a percentage of every harvest to the Food Bank. Over the last seven years, we’ve received millions of pounds of produce grown at the Great Park in Irvine thanks to that commitment.

Another partner is the Orange County Sheriff’s Department. One detention site they run is the Musick Honor Farm. It had been involved in the production of fresh fruit and vegetables, poultry, and livestock for decades but around 2009, the country decided it couldn’t continue to operate the farm. The detention facility remained, inmates were housed there, but they shut down the farming operation. A few years down the road, we became aware of that. We invited the sheriff to come to the Food Bank and had a conversation with her about the needs of the community. She quickly said they’d restart the farming operation. They’re farming 12 acres now. We hope to increase that over time. It’s got myriad benefits: inmates get the opportunity to be out in the fresh air and stay productive. Also, the inmates know the produce goes to low income families in Orange County. In many cases, those are their families or families from their communities. That’s something they have pride in.

We use these examples to start conversations with potential partners. We’ve been having conversations with Southern California Edison for some time. They’ve got a lot of property. So, we’re talking to Edison to access some of their properties for some small, local farming operations.

We’ve also made a proposal that concerns the Fairview hospital in Costa Mesa. It was built to house 4,000 disabled persons but now houses 200. Nationally there’s been a trend against mass housing—to integrate people in communities and group homes. The state of California wants to shut down these massive mental hospitals—that land will be repurposed. We’ve already gone to the city of Costa Mesa and to the state and have asked for some acreage for a local farming operation. That doesn’t mean we’ll get it, but we’ve included our request. We’re hoping to at least get five acres. Also: the hospital plans to build a little village for people who remain there. There’s a program called AgrAbility, which integrates disabled persons into agricultural production. We’d like to help integrate this into being part of the therapy.

Grow Local OC: What’s your goal for the OC Food Bank in the coming years?

Mark Lowry: More partnerships. We’ve had some great success in transforming parcels of idle land into productive use. We want to identify new partners that have idle land. Some of those projects may be little and some could be large in scope. But you can’t drive through our community without finding vacant lots. For example, there’s a company that’s been very supportive of the Food Bank—a very progressive company—that is moving to a 14-acre facility that has a lot of surplus land. And there’s a local meat manufacturer that has a normal, run-of-the-mill lawn in front of its building—we’ve met with them a few times and told them we’d like to put in a community garden here.

Everything from partnering with local businesses and helping them build small parcels, to working on projects like the Fairview hospital. We’ve done it before—we’ve proven the concept can be done—and we use those projects as success stories to go to others to identify those farmer/partners, too.

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Mark Lowry will also be participating in the upcoming Grow Local OC Conference on November 10-11, 2016 at Cal State Fullerton. To hear him speak about food access, food bank farms and more, click here:http://growlocaloc.eventbrite.com