Only 6 Days Left Until the ‘Grow Local OC: Future of Urban Food Systems Conference’

seedstock conferenceIf you’re curious about the potential for urban farming endeavors to generate community and economic capital, or how stakeholders – from farmers and food bank administrators to healthcare providers and community advocates – can build connections to foster robust local food systems, or how entrepreneurs utilize hydroponics and aquaponics to create new farm enterprises in cities, you won’t want to miss out on the upcoming Grow Local OC: Future of Urban Food Systems Conference.

The event, presented by Seedstock in partnership with the OC Food Access Coalition, is only SIX DAYS 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.

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:

  • Finding Funding for Local Food and Farming Ventures
  • Urban Agriculture
  • Food Access
  • Controlled Environment Agriculture, from Hydroponics to Aquaponics
  • Community and School Garden Development

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

Register Now!

 http://growlocaloc.eventbrite.com

Confirmed Speakers:

Tim Alderson – Vice Chairman at Solutions for Urban Ag
Rachel Surls – Sustainable Food Systems Advisor for UC Cooperative Extension
Ed Horton – President and CEO of Urban Produce LLC
Karen Ross – Secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture
Nate Storey – CEO of Bright Agrotech
Farmer Glenn Tanaka – Owner of Tanaka Farms
Megan Penn – Executive Director of Orange Home Grown
Sonora Ortiz – Market Manager, Downtown Santa Ana Farmers’ Market
Rishi Kumar – Co-founder and Director of The Growing Club
Christina Hall – Executive Director of OC Food Access Coalition
Mary Abad – Deputy Executive Director, Slow Money SoCal
Aaron Fox – Asst. Professor, Urban & Community Agriculture at Cal Poly Pomona
Kimi McAdam – Asst. Dept. Administrator for Food & Nutrition Service at Kaiser Permanente
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 AISA Program
Chef Adam Navidi – Founder, Future Foods Farms and Oceans & Earth Restaurant
Frank Fitzpatrick – Owner, 5 Bar Beef
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.

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

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

Community College Hort Professor Prepares Students to Work in Indoor Farms of the Future

Students in Professor Valerie Loew's Horticulture class at Fullerton College in Orange County, CA. Photo courtesy of Fullerton College.

Students in Professor Valerie Loew’s Horticulture class at Fullerton College in Orange County, CA. Photo courtesy of Fullerton College.

When it comes to Controlled Environment Agriculture [CEA], Valerie Loew wants the U.S. to catch up with Europe and China before it’s too late.

“The rest of the world is so far ahead of us, because they are so limited with their own resources,” says Loew, who is professor and horticulture department head at Fullerton College in Southern California. “They are taking advantage of this technology way before us because we have sunshine and we have water; but we really don’t. Between Europe and China, the amount of greenhouses they have is just off the charts. We need to start catching up.” Read more

Urban Aquaponic Farmer and Chef Orange County Adam Navidi

4 OC Farms Using Innovation to Meet Market Demand and Increase Food Access

Urban Aquaponic Farmer and Chef Orange County Adam Navidi

Photo courtesy of Future Foods Farms.

Orange County, California, named for abundant orange groves long since paved over to make way for residential and commercial development (and Disneyland), is striving to reconnect with with its agricultural roots. New farmers and entrepreneurs are emerging to take advantage of growing demand for local and hyper-local produce and help communities overcome food access challenges.

However, as a result of high land prices that make it prohibitively expensive to purchase acreage necessary to operate a traditional field farming endeavor, these pioneering farmers utilize innovative growing systems that enable production of high volumes of produce on a small footprint. Aquaponics, hydroponics and solar energy are just some of the cutting-edge tools that these urban farmers are employing to grow and supply fresh, local food to area residents and retailers in the county.

Below is a sampling of four innovative urban farms growing food locally to benefit the community and economy of Orange County.  

Future Foods Farms–Brea

Chef and farmer Adam Navidi has transformed 25 acres in Brea into Future Foods Farms, a forward-thinking urban farming dynamo. The farm uses aquaponics to raise tilapia and grow a wide array of produce including lettuce, tomatoes, herbs, vegetables, peppers and flowers.

ABOUT AQUAPONICS

The combination of hydroponics with aquaculture that forms an aquaponic system serves to create a more optimized and sustainable food production system by solving for problems that occur in the individual systems. With hydroponics, a grower often must rely upon commercial fertilizers in order to enrich the water, while in aquaculture the fish farmer must constantly monitor the toxicity levels of the water that results from fish effluents (waste).

In aquaponics, the fish effluent in the water provides an organic nutrient source, or natural fertilizer, for the plants being grown in the system. The plants in turn consume the natural fertilizer and in the process filter and purify the water, which is subsequently recirculated back to the fish.

Chef Navidi’s aquaponically grown produce can be found at his Yorba Linda restaurant, Oceans & Earth, as well as at numerous farmers’ markets across Orange County. It’s also distributed through the Future Foods Farms CSA and served at events that Navidi caters.

Not content to keep his farming innovations to himself, Navidi is passionate about teaching others about the value of innovative urban agriculture. Through its menu and website, Oceans & Earth patrons learn about the food they eat. Additionally, Future Foods Farms offers internships to students from California State University, Fullerton.

Control Air Community Farm–Anaheim

On a small patch of land nestled in between a busy street, an elementary school, and a row of houses sits a quiet farm that is making big waves in Orange County sustainability. It’s the Control Air Community Farm in Anaheim, a project of Renewable Farms. It is an aquaponics farm, a farming system that combines elements of aquaculture and hydroponics and it just might be the future of sustainable agriculture.

Inside the farm one finds rows of arugula, basil, and other crops in raised plant beds connected to tanks of tilapia. The farm, which was built on asphalt, consists of 10 4,000-gallon tanks and 50 80-square-foot plant beds. It also uses minimal water to operate, and produces over 2,000 pounds of food for underserved residents.

Aaron has big plans for the future of the Control Air Community Farm. He hopes that it becomes more than just a farm, but also a gathering spot for the neighborhood. He welcomes visitors and kids from the neighborhood to come over to just hang out. Families often stop by to have a picnic, too. He even hopes to build a half-pipe so kids can come over and have somewhere to skate.

Urban Produce–Irvine

At Urban Produce in Irvine, hydroponic vertical growing systems supply nourishment to crops inside a controlled-environment greenhouse. The company’s patented growing system stacks produce vertically, in a closed automated environment. Produce in the system rotates in the greenhouse providing it with uniform light and air distribution. As a result of this automation, plants receive a precisely calibrated amount of nutrients and water that boosts efficiency and reduces costs.

Urban Produce’s hydroponic system requires 90 percent less water than a conventional farm. Much of the water required for the system comes from a dehumidifier system that draws water from the air to nourish the plants. In this repetitive closed-loop system, the plants release water back into the air, which is again recaptured by the dehumidifier system.

Urban Produce is a USDA certified organic grower that produces wheatgrass and a variety of microgreens including broccoli, kale, amaranth, wasabi, bok choy, radish and sunflower seeds. The company sells primarily to local customers, and as a result its produce remains fresher longer and shipping costs are greatly reduced. 

Alegría Fresh–Irvine

Alegría Fresh, which currently operates out of the Orange County Great Park in Irvine, utilizes hydroponics to grow everything from herbs and leafy greens to peppers, zucchini and tomatoes.  The high-tech farm includes 130 vertical hydroponic growing towers, each one containing about 40 plants. The towers use coconut fiber (coir) as a growing medium, which prevents contamination from harmful bacteria such as E. coli, salmonella and listeria. A benefit to this type of farming is minimal water requirements—a tower drinks less than three quarters of a gallon daily. And since the vertical growing system is powered by the sun, its overall energy costs are negligible.

Alegría Fresh’s  Soxx Farm, a collaboration between Alegría Fresh, Orange County Produce and Filtrexx Corporation, is equally innovative. The farm employs GardenSoxx, an innovative natural, nutrient-dense food production system that can be used over cement or other man-made surfaces. The Alegría Soxx farm consists of 13 rows of 5 Soxx each, for a total of 7,200 linear feet of growing space within an 8,500 sq. ft. area (approx. 1/5 acre). According to Alegría, production yields are nearly double that of conventional farming, and water usage is 70% less. Thirteen different specialty crops including four cultivators of beets, onions, red and green romaine, radicchio, treviso, red and green cabbage and kale are being grown to demonstrate the versatility of the system.

Future of Urban Food Systems Conference Coming to OC in November; Early Bird Special Tickets Available

grow local oc conference future of urban food systems orange county

The Grow Local OC: Future of Urban Food Systems Conference takes place on November 10 – 11, 2016 at California State University, Fullerton.

Early Bird Special Tickets are now available for a limited time for the Grow Local OC: Future of Urban Food System Conference presented by Seedstock in partnership with the Orange County Food Access Coalition.  The conference  is slated for Nov. 10 – 11, 2016 at California State University, Fullerton in Orange County (Hosted by U-ACRE). It will focus on the community and economic development potential of urban food systems efforts across southern California and the country to improve food access and health outcomes, connect people to their food, and create new jobs and business opportunities by employing innovative business models and farming systems of the future.

Below are additional details on the two-day conference.

Day 1: Conference Day (Nov. 10, 2016):

Attendees will convene at the Portola Pavilion on the campus of California State University, Fullerton in Orange County, CA for a series of panels and keynotes that will address such topic areas as the importance of local food systems development for cities, the economic potential of indoor agriculture, the expansion of the local food marketplace, urban farming and local food access, community gardens and farms, and more.

Learn More – http://growlocaloc.com/conference

Confirmed Speakers:

Karen Ross – Secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture
Mark Lowry – Director of the Orange County Food Bank
Rachel Surls – Sustainable Food Systems Advisor for UC Cooperative Extension
Chef Adam Navidi – Founder, Future Foods Farms and Oceans & Earth Restaurant
Rishi Kumar – Co-founder and Director of The Growing Club
Christina Hall – Executive Director of OC Food Access Coalition
Erik Cutter – Managing Director of Alegria Fresh
Dwight Detter – Executive Director, Slow Money SoCal
Colin and Karen Archipley – Co-founders of Archi’s Acres and AISA (Archi’s Institute for Sustainable Agriculture)
Aaron Fox – Asst. Professor, Urban & Community Agriculture at Cal Poly Pomona
Chris Higgins – General Manager at Hort Americas
Megan Penn – Executive Director of Orange Home Grown
Sara E. Johnson – Director of the Urban Agriculture Community-based Research Experience (U-ACRE) program at Cal State Fullerton
…and more!

Day 2: The Future Farm Field Trip (Nov. 11, 2016):

The Urban Food Systems Field Trip will offer a limited number of attendees an excursion into the diversity of innovative urban and state-of-the-art agriculture operations across 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. Scheduled stops on the tour thus far include:

  • Future Foods Farms – Future Foods Farms, located on 25 acres in Brea, California, produces all organically grown products in its 2,000-4,000 square-feet greenhouses and is one of the largest aquaponic farms in the state.
  • Urban Produce – Irvine-based Urban Produce has developed the patented High Density Vertical Growing System (HDVGS) as a sustainable alternative to traditional agriculture, utilizing advanced hydroponic technologies in a controlled environment.
  • Alegria Fresh – Alegría Fresh, located in Irvine, CA is a zero-waste, solar-powered one-acre high performance urban microfarm employing hydro-organic and hybrid soil-based growing systems.
  • The Riverbed Farm – The Riverbed Farm in Anaheim is an aquaponics farm, a farming system that combines elements of aquaculture and hydroponics. The farm uses minimal water to operate and produces over 2,000 pounds of food for underserved residents.

To purchase early bird tickets, please visit: http://growlocaloc.eventbrite.com

Hydroponics and Healthy Soil Propel OC Grower’s Urban Microfarm

Erik Cutter surrounded by the growing systems he has developed at Irvine’s Alegria Fresh micro­farm. (Photo courtesy of Alegria Fresh)

Erik Cutter surrounded by the growing systems he has employed at Irvine’s Alegria Fresh micro­farm. (Photo courtesy of Alegria Fresh)

Launching and running an economically viable urban farm is difficult under even the most favorable conditions. In Orange County, where land prices are at a premium and homes cannot be built quickly enough to fulfill resident demand, the prospect of finding available land and launching a profitable urban farming venture is viewed by many as remote and, at best, a very large challenge.

To an entrepreneur, though, a very large challenge is often viewed as a big fat opportunity. Such is the case with Erik Cutter, a Laguna, CA local and entrepreneur with a background in biochemistry and oncology.  

In 2012, Cutter set out to not only sustainably grow nutrient rich produce, but also to demonstrate the economic viability of urban farming in Orange County. To do so, Cutter designed a farm comprised of 22 vertical hydroponic growing towers holding a total of 750 plants on a 260-square-foot plot in Laguna’s Bluebird Canyon. Cutter christened his urban microfarm, Alegria Fresh. He also built the microfarm to prove that you could use water efficient, environmentally friendly vertical hydroponic growing towers to create a high yield farming operation on a small plot of land, pretty much anywhere.

Cutter says that microfarms are great for urban areas as they can be used to re-purpose existing sites–like abandoned lots–and can be placed on asphalt, on top of contaminated soil, or even on cement. “I actually prefer cement because it is weed free,” he says.

A starter plant is placed into a GardenSoxx at Alegria Fresh where it will receive nutrients and moisture for growth. (Photo courtesy of Alegria Fresh)

A starter plant is placed into a GardenSoxx at Alegria Fresh where it will receive nutrients and moisture for growth. (Photo courtesy of Alegria Fresh)

In 2013, in order to expand his operation and educate community members and stakeholders, Cutter moved his farm to Irvine’s Great Park and set up his hydroponic vertical growing towers on a half-acre plot there. To complement the vertical growing towers and so that he could grow larger vegetables including squashes, kohlrabi, and beets for local consumers, Cutter incorporated an additional growing system, known as GardenSoxx. GardenSoxx are long, horizontal polypropylene mesh tubes that the farmer stuffs with his growing medium of choice–soil, compost, or coir. The farmer then inserts seeds, or seedlings, into the GardenSoxx, and applies nutrient-dense water. The GardenSoxx are beneficial in that they provide excellent drainage and aeration, thereby helping the plants get the oxygen they need to create strong root systems.

Between its hydroponic vertical growing towers and GardenSoxx, the farm grows over 80 different types of nutrient dense produce including leafy greens, root vegetables and herbs. The farm sells to restaurants and direct to consumers onsite and through a CSA. These sales make the farm profitable enough to cover operational costs and provide a living wage for its staff.

“We average around $12K per month in sales on our little farm, and we are only farming intensely a half an acre at any one time,” says Cutter. “If you extrapolate those numbers out [annually], that’s $144,000 on a half acre and $288,000 on a full acre. […] the average farmer likes to generate $50,000 on a commercial acre, so we’re already doing five or six times that.”

Cutter believes that this system of efficient and dense farming on re-purposed land is a viable solution for anyone striving to launch an economically viable urban farming venture where available and affordable farmland is hard to come by–as it is in Orange County. Alegria Fresh may soon get a chance to replicate its growing success inside new residential communities. Cutter is talking to several developers about placing Alegria Fresh microfarms inside residential communities currently under development. From Cutter’s perspective, “that’s gonna be the new paradigm shift in urban agriculture, that we’ll build scalable, high performance, zero waste, urban micro-farms within a community development. I’ve been waiting for developers to see this as a valuable amenity and they are starting to see that.”

“When you put this in a community model, it benefits the residents,” Cutter says, “[as] you are actually competing with supermarkets, but the food is far superior.”

(Note: At time of writing and due to planned development of a sports complex at the farm’s current Great Park location, Alegria Fresh is moving to a new site on Marine Way just outside the park. Please check the farm’s website for location information and updates.)

Erik Cutter 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 hydroponics, soil health, and urban farming, click here: http://growlocaloc.eventbrite.com

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

5 Local Farms Surviving and Thriving in Orange County

Land that used be home to officers’ housing on a marine base is now used for farming at Orange County Great Park in Irvine, California. (photo courtesy A.G. Kawamura/Orange County Produce)

Land that used be home to officers’ housing on a marine base is now used for farming at Orange County Great Park in Irvine, California. (photo courtesy A.G. Kawamura/Orange County Produce)

Farming in Orange County is a challenge. Arable and available land is not only scarce, but oftentimes prohibitively expensive. Tenant farmers continually butt up against the relentless encroachment of urban development, which forces them to relocate their operations over and over again. But despite difficulties, farmers in the county persevere and even thrive. The growing local food movement in the county and greater Southern California region has also helped to provide farmers with new markets and opportunities. The OC farms listed below have employed grit and resourcefulness to achieve economic viability in a challenging agricultural environment.

Orange County Produce

Run by third generation Orange County growers A.G. and Matthew Kawamura, Irvine-based Orange County Produce, LLC (OC Produce) is a local farming enterprise committed to continuing the tradition of agriculture in the county. They have done this by being adaptable and mobile as they farm on vacant lots they lease. Often these lots are awaiting development, but haven’t broken ground for one reason or another. OC Produce signs a quick lease, they get to farm the land for a couple of harvests, and the landowner sees some income from his land. It is a win-win situation for all parties—including county residents who like to eat locally grown food.

OC Produce grows a wide variety of produce – from squash, tomatoes and peppers to higher value value fruits and vegetables like radicchio, strawberries and an extensive selection of beans produce – on approximately 1000 acres spread across 30 to 40 plots around the county.

OC Produce fruits and vegetables can be found at local farmer’s markets, in grocery stores and on restaurant menus, often just hours after being picked. The company also donates produce to local food banks as it believes in, “the common sense philosophy that food produced and consumed locally has multiple benefits for society, the economy and the environment.”

The Original Manassero Farms

When the folks at The Original Manassero Farms talk about growing for the “local market”, they mean hyper local, as much of what they grow is sold from their own distinctive red barn farm stands located in Irvine, Brea, Tustin and Cerritos. Owned and run by third-generation Orange County grower Dan Manassero and his wife Ann, the farms are famous throughout Orange County for their strawberries. Manassero Farms also grows squash, tomatoes, corn, herbs, lettuces, and a variety of other berries. In addition to selling fruits and vegetables from their farm stands, the Manasseros sell to local Whole Foods Markets. They also produce and sell their own jams, jellies and other preserves. 

To prevent any unsold produce from going to waste, Manassero Farms has partnered with local gleaner, Loaves and Fishes X10. This partnership makes it possible for thousands of pounds of free and fresh produce to go from the Manassero’s fields to local food banks and charities. From there, it is distributed to families and individuals in need throughout Orange County.

Neff Ranch

The presence of Orange County oranges at a number of farmers market in the region is in no small part due to the efforts of Don Neff, President of Neff Ranch, one of the last remaining orange growers in the county. After relocating to Southern California from Washington, Neff, a homebuilder and developer, was presented in with the opportunity to manage the remaining orange orchard on the Yorba Linda, CA estate of Susanna Bixby Bryant.

The location of the estate’s 21-acre orchard in the Santa Ana River floodplain kept its 4,000 Valencia orange trees safe from being bulldozed for new housing. In addition to the orchard that it manages at the Susanna Bixby Bryant estate, Neff Ranch also manages a 13-acre Hass avocado orchard in Tustin that is located on the hillsides of the Emerson tract subdivision.

Tanaka Farms

Glen and Shirley Tanaka and their son, Kenny, run Tanaka Farms on 30 acres of leased land located next to the Irvine Open Space Preserve. The Tanakas have embraced agritourism wholeheartedly and their farm is always teeming with local residents participating in educational farm tours and taking advantage of pick-your-own produce opportunities (they grow some 60 different crops throughout the year). The Tanaka’s also operate an onsite farm stand and a CSA with a membership base of 450-500 subscribers.

Kenny says location is key to the farm’s success. “You cannot tell you are in the middle of the city. We are kind of in a little valley so you don’t see many homes around. There is a different atmosphere here.” He continues, “If we had to replicate it somewhere else in Orange County, we probably wouldn’t get the same amount of traffic.”

Tanaka Farms gets about 20,000 visitors a year, with the largest crowds showing up during strawberry season (March-June) and during October’s Pumpkin Patch. The farm also hosts “Cookout Tours” where participants take a guided tractor or walking tour around the farm to pick their own veggies and then cook them onsite for a picnic.  

They also host regular gleaning days where volunteers pick produce that is donated to the South County Outreach and Families Forward in Irvine food pantries.

Future Food Farms

Chef and farmer Adam Navidi has transformed 25 acres in Brea into Future Foods Farms, a forward-thinking urban farming dynamo. The farm uses aquaponics to raise tilapia and grow a wide array of produce including lettuce, tomatoes, herbs, vegetables, peppers and flowers.  

Careful use of resources underpins everything done at Future Foods Farms, as Styrofoam boxes destined for the landfill, old nursery pots and even old salad bars are repurposed and used in the growing operation. There is even a herd of goats onsite to tend to unwanted weeds so no power mowing is necessary. Although, in truth, many of those weeds are far from unwanted, as Chef Navidi uses them when creating dishes for his restaurant and catering events.

The list of items grown at Future Food Farms includes an array of organic greens, herbs, vegetables, peppers and even edible flowers. But buyers won’t find the farm’s output in stores as the farm does not sell to wholesalers. Instead, the farm’s produce is available in area restaurants, to CSA subscribers, and at farmers’ markets throughout Orange County.

A Family Farm for All of Orange County

A trailer­load of happy kids show off their just picked strawberries during a tour of Irvine-based Tanaka Farms. Photo courtesy of Tanaka Farms.

A trailer­load of happy kids show off their just picked strawberries during a tour of Irvine-based Tanaka Farms. Photo courtesy of Tanaka Farms.

Tanaka Farms located in Irvine, CA, with its daily influx of visitors participating in educational farm tours and picking their own fruits and vegetables from its fields, has become a de facto family farm for all of Orange County. And, with production agriculture sadly on the wane in the county, farmer Glenn Tanaka is more than happy to offer community members county-wide the opportunity to engage in a unique family-oriented farm experience. 

As his son Kenny Tanaka explains, “My Dad likes to say: ‘Before, everybody had an aunt, or uncle, or family member that farmed. Now, hopefully we can be everybody’s family local farm.’”

The small farm’s resourcefulness, embrace of the broader community, and adoption of an agritourism-focused revenue model have enabled it to survive and thrive for four generations.

The Tanaka family has a long history of farming in California, dating back to the 1920s when Kenny Tanaka’s great‑grandfather, Teruo, immigrated to California from Hiroshima, Japan and started farming in the Fresno area.

In the mid-1940s, the Tanaka family moved to Orange County and the successive generations, including Kenny, his grandfather George and father Glenn, have been farming there ever since.

Over four decades and up until his death in 1998, George Tanaka and his heirs ran a successful farming enterprise that at one point spread across 200 acres of leased Orange County land. The farm thrived, selling strawberries and vegetables to eager and loyal customers at a number of popular roadside farm stands.

In the mid-1990s, however, urban development and rising land prices pushed the Tanaka’s to downsize. So in 1998, Glenn Tanaka signed a lease to relocate the farm to a piece of farmland that was in the process of being subdivided for the construction of a golf course. The tenant farmer occupying the land at that time, not wanting to downsize his operation to a smaller parcel on the site, did not sign a new lease. “Luckily, we came upon the place and we took it over at that point,” says Kenny.

The signing of the lease for the 30-acre parcel, which is adjacent to the Irvine Open Space Preserve, coincided with a slow down in business that proved fortuitous. To make up for revenue shortfall, Glenn decided to experiment with agritourism and offer farm tours at the new site. It turned out that he was onto something and the tours went so well that when the last roadside stand (located in Cypress) was lost to development in 2002, Kenny says, “[M]y Dad started ramping up the agritourism part of the farm and made it the main source of income.”

Increasing onsite farm income to a level that can fully support Tanaka Farms’ operation has been beneficial to family and staff alike, who were previously spending a lot of time off the farm. “We were doing a lot of farmers markets at that time, probably about 30 to 35 markets a week, two or three a day, easily,” Kenny says. “We were going all the way to Los Angeles, up to Palos Verdes, Santa Monica and doing the local ones around here also.” 

Piles of pumpkins greet visitors each October at the Tanaka Farm Pumpkin Patch next to Irvine’s Open Space Preserve. Photo courtesy of Tanaka Farms.

Piles of pumpkins greet visitors each October at the Tanaka Farm Pumpkin Patch next to Irvine’s Open Space Preserve. Photo courtesy of Tanaka Farms.

Today, the farm offers local residents educational farm tours and pick-your-own produce opportunities (they grow some 60 different crops throughout the year). The Tanaka’s also operate an onsite farm stand and a CSA with a membership base of 450-500 subscribers.

Kenny says location is key to the farm’s agritourism success. “You cannot tell you are in the middle of the city. We are kind of in a little valley so you don’t see many homes around. There is a different atmosphere here.” He continues, “If we had to replicate it somewhere else in Orange County, we probably wouldn’t get the same amount of traffic.”

Tanaka Farms gets about 20,000 visitors a year, with the largest crowds showing up during strawberry season (March-June) and during October’s Pumpkin Patch. Kenny says that a successful October is important for the farm’s success. “Now that we are based almost all on agritourism, if we had rain or anything during the month of October, we would have a pretty tough year.”