Urban Agriculture Incentive Program Seeks to Increase Farming Opportunities in Local Communities

In September 2013, California passed Assembly Bill 551 (AB551), Urban Agriculture Incentive Zones (UAIZ), which allows cities and counties within the state to incentivize land owners to donate vacant or undeveloped land for urban agriculture use over a five-year period, according to information from the Los Angeles Department of Regional Planning. Land owners who participate will receive reduced property tax assessments in exchange for this allowance.

The requirements to participate include parcels between 0.10 and 3 acres, a minimum contract of five years, complete use of the land for agriculture purposes, and no prior physical structures existing on the property. Many California communities have already passed or are in the process of approving the ordinance including San Francisco, San Diego, Long Beach, San Jose, and Sacramento; however, only a couple of contracts have been processed in those areas combined.

The ordinance has already passed through Los Angeles County, but this motion only applies to unincorporated areas. The incorporated city of Los Angeles is currently in the process of approving the ordinance, according to Iesha Siler, a policy associate for the Los Angeles Food Policy Council (LAFPC).

“The main obstacle for people wanting to do urban agriculture is land. Either they don’t have access to it or it is too expensive to actually acquire,” Siler says. “The UAIZ policy will incentivize private property owners to have some meaning in how they use their land, which is huge because we don’t really have any other incentives.”

The ordinance now must go through two rounds of approval from the Planning and Land Use Management Committee and the City Council for it to become law in the city.

The hope for UAIZ is that it will benefit Californian communities in a number of ways. For instance, according to the LAFPC, the use of underutilized land for agriculture can increase the production of local, nutritious food in areas experiencing food poverty or poor access to fresh fruits and vegetables. Land may also be used for education about sustainable farming practices and healthy foods. Urban farming could create new jobs within communities and help to generate revenue from the resulting products. Finally, agricultural land use can reduce blight, which, according to Siler, is a term denoting a property that has been left unimproved that becomes a dumping ground in a community.

The future looks bright for local farmers regarding UAIZ, but challenges exist for the successful development of urban agricultural sites. Rachel Surls, the sustainable food systems advisor for the University of California Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, believes that finding a match between a landowner and potential urban farmer will likely be the initial challenge.

“For many potential urban farmers, their idea is to have an urban farm in the neighborhood where they live,” says Surls. “If I live in one part of Los Angeles, I may not be able or willing to start an urban farm across town where there is a landowner willing to let me farm. Finding appropriate matches between potential farmers and willing landowners will take time.”

This difficulty has already been experienced in San Francisco, where, despite being in place for two years, the UAIZ program has only seen one successful development within the city, the 18th and Rhode Island Garden. Yet, Eli Zigas, the food and agriculture policy director for SPUR, a non-profit urban planning and think tank organization in the Bay Area, believes that much of the problem in San Francisco is the tight land market.

18th and Rhode Island Garden Photo Credit: Eli Zigas.

In San Francisco, despite being in place for two years, the Urban Agriculture Incentives Zone program has only seen one successful implementation in the city at the 18th and Rhode Island Garden (pictured above) Photo Credit: Eli Zigas.

“The hope was that a good number of owners would see an advantage to receiving the tax cut if they had no plans to do anything with their land in the next five years,” says Zigas. “What we are seeing is the incentive is not enough, even knowing they could get thousands of dollars in savings per year, to have interest in a longer-term commitment.”

Zigas hopes that a city like Los Angeles, where the land market is not as tight, will have greater engagement with UAIZ and impact on the communities. Still, despite the larger number of open plots in Los Angeles, the challenge is in finding the owners.

“I am more worried about getting in contact with the owners and explaining the policies to them,” says Siler. “Many are out of the country, and we don’t have current info for them, just a name and a mailing address for where the taxes go.”

For these reasons, the LAFPC has been conducting significant outreach efforts to attract potential land owners and urban growers for future partnerships before the ordinance is approved.

“We’ve been working with the county supervisor trying to tee up projects now so they are ready when things get started,” Siler says. “We already have urban growers who have let us know which areas they are interested in farming, and some already have land contracts that might be ready for the tax incentive.”

Other challenges include significant start-up costs for an urban farm, which may result in a barrier for some potential farmers, according to Surls. Sites may need significant upgrades, water lines, irrigation equipment, and other supplies, which can be a lot for urban farmers to manage on their own, especially when they will likely have to pick up and move after five years if the agreement is not extended.

“It’s going to be hard to leave a piece of land and move to another, yet this is the contract between parties that makes the UAIZ possible,” Surls says. “I would love to see the UAIZ program paired up with a local grant program to help cover some costs of start up for urban farmers in underserved communities.”

These communities, where food production and jobs are most critically needed may be less likely to have access to the necessary resources and funding for starting an urban farm, according to Surls. Finding funding sources, whether at the local or federal levels, may be vital for some of these projects to begin. Still, Surls believes UAIZ is a step in the right direction.

“I think it is best we view [UAIZ] as one tool in a toolbox to empower communities to grow food and meet other goals related to urban agriculture,” says Surls. “More work is needed at the state level and the local municipal level to address important issues that urban agriculture touches on.”


This post originally appeared on Seedstock.com:

http://seedstock.com/2016/11/21/socal-urban-agriculture-incentive-program-to-increase-farming-opportunities-in-local-communities/

Farming Formerly Vacant Lots, Urban Ag Program Grows New Farmers and Fresh Produce for Food Deserts

The West Sacramento Urban Farming Program aims

The West Sacramento Urban Farm Program leases city, school district, private and commercially-owned land for five years in the area’s food desert. Photo courtesy of West Sacramento Urban Farming Program.

An urban farming project in West Sacramento, California, aims to fill the area’s food deserts with fresh produce and create new farmers in the process.

Founded in 2014, the West Sacramento Urban Farm Program is an initiative of the agricultural education nonprofit Center for Land-Based Learning, headquartered in Winters, California. The program converts vacant lots in urban West Sacramento neighborhoods to increase food access, and support production of fresh fruits and vegetables.

“We’re growing about 25,000 to 30,000 pounds of produce a month, so it’s definitely a significant amount of produce that all stays within West Sacramento for the most part,” program founder Sara Bernal says. Read more

Less than 2 DAYS Remain to Purchase Discounted Early Bird Tickets for Grow Local OC Conference

early bird registrationLess than TWO DAYS remain to obtain Early Bird discounted registration tickets for the upcoming Grow Local OC: Future of Urban Food Systems Conference presented by Seedstock in partnership with the OC Food Access Coalition. 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:

  • 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
Tim Alderson – Executive Director at Seeds of Hope
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
Megan Penn – Executive Director of Orange Home Grown
Ed Horton – President and CEO of Urban Produce LLC
Colin and Karen Archipley – Co-founders of Archi’s Acres and the VSAT Program
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 – Urban Farmer at Farm to Fork
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 Early Bird 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 early bird tickets remainhttp://growlocaloc.eventbrite.com

In Leading Fight for Food Access in OC, Christina Hall Draws on Community Gardening Roots

Christina Hall serves as executive director of the Orange County Food Access Coalition. (photo courtesy Christina Hall)

Christina Hall serves as executive director of the Orange County Food Access Coalition. (photo courtesy Christina Hall)

For Christina Hall, executive director of Orange County Food Access Coalition, it all began in a garden. A community garden, that is, where Hall first learned about food access challenges.

Even though Hall had been involved with social justice issues such as air quality and right to water, it wasn’t until about 10 years ago that her eyes were opened to the problem of food inequity. For this she thanks her daughter, who was in eighth grade at the time.

“They started a community garden after school,” says Hall. “At that point I had a black thumb—I couldn’t even keep a cactus alive.”She learned how to grow food, but more importantly, she became aware of the widespread lack of food access in Orange County. This spurred her to go back to school in 2010, and two years later Hall earned a master’s degree in urban sustainability (with a focus on community gardens and food justice) from Antioch University. Her hands-on experience complemented her formal graduate education. Read more

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

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.”

Yes, Cattle Do Still Roam the Rolling Pastures of Orange County

Today, amidst the urban sprawl and paved over groves and ranches of yore, Orange County residents might be surprised to learn that it is still possible to find cattle happily nibbling on grass and grazing the rolling pastures of 5 Bar Beef, a Silverado, CA-based ranching operation located in the Santa Ana Mountains. Residents can purchase 5 Bar Beef’s grass-fed, pasture-raised beef at several farmers’ markets in the county and online.

5 Bar Beef is something of a throwback, but the sustainable holistic grazing practices in use on the 800-acre ranch are entirely evidence-based — and Frank Fitzpatrick, owner and head cowboy in charge, believes that the techniques he uses offer hope for California’s water crisis and the planet at large.

Grow Local OC recently spoke to Fitzpatrick to learn more about his reasons for raising cattle, 5 Bar Beefs’ contribution to the local food system in Orange County, and the sustainable grazing methods that he employs to mitigate drought. Here’s what he had to say:

Grow Local OC: What made you decide to become a cattleman?

Frank Fitzpatrick: On my eighth birthday, I decided I was going to be a cowboy, and I just never changed my mind. I went to Orange County High School and got into the ag department and Future Farmers of America and I liked it; in my senior year I had 25 steers, ten pigs and two sheep. I went to all the fairs.

I went to Cal Poly for my bachelor of science degrees, one in agricultural business and one in animal science. I ran into Jan Bonsma. He was the head of the University of Pretoria ag school in South Africa; he had control of 30,000 head of cattle and had the resources to experiment, and he did. My other big mentor was Newt Wright. He was a cowboy who went to Cal Poly too. He was 17 years older; we were friends since I was about 15. More than anything else, what I learned from Jan and Newt was to think outside the box.

Grow Local OC: How does 5 Bar Beef contribute to the growth of the local food system in Orange County?

FF: I started selling half and whole cows in 2002, and in 2004, we started selling in the local farmers’ markets. We, sell to local food co-ops and some local restaurants, and we participate in the Bon Apetit Farm to Fork Program.

We are the only beef producer in Orange County that sells in Orange County. And we’re among only a handful of ranches in California that produce meat from conception to your plate.

Grow Local OC: How does 5 Bar Beef raise its cattle differently from other operations?

FF: We just turn ‘em out; they are born outside and die outside. So a 3-year-old has been in a corral maybe six times, total; commercially raised cattle are surrounded by wood and pipe 24/7. Our herd and our land are completely chemical-free; holistic management eliminates the need for a lot of stressors like castration, worming, and dehorning.

And they taste like beef.  I mean, this stuff is just to die for. What they sell in the commercial beef industry is actually just veal; the animals haven’t lived long enough to taste good, so they rely on fat for the flavor. The average commercial animal is harvested at 12 to 14 months. Ours are two or three years old, mostly three.

Grow Local OC: Why did you choose to feed your cattle grass and raise them on pasture?

FF: My first major revelation hit when I was taking a nutrition class and doing the math and found that it took 32 pounds of grain to make a pound of lean protein. That seemed ridiculously inefficient. You buy fossil fuel, run tractors over and over the land, irrigate, harvest, silo it, crack it, steam it, roll it,  cook it. Why in the hell would you do all that work when the cow can walk out there and eat in the field?

Grow Local OC: Isn’t that equation often cited by environmentalists as a big reason people should eat less meat? That and methane?

FF: The earth supported predators and herds for the last fifteen million years. Humans took the predators out of the equation because we’re afraid of them, but the predators moved the herds, and that kept the environmental cycle healthy. That’s what we need to replicate, one ranch at a time; that’s how God ran buffalo 250 years ago, on a sea of grass.

I’ve had my herd of Barzona cattle since 1979, and in the late 80s I ran into Allan Savory. He’s a pioneer of rotational grazing methods, holistic management, that can stop desertification and climate change. With proper grazing, you can set up a cycle that gives the environmentally desirable perennials a better chance to survive and thrive.

Grow Local OC: So do you find it economically feasible to ranch this way?

FF: Producing beef the way we do is marginally viable in a drought situation. We’ve owned our herd of cattle for 37 years, and these periods of marginal economic viability […] have to be lived through and sustained. The situation of limited grazing in Orange County could be reversed by cooperation by local environmentalists that control  vast areas of land in the county that have been traditionally used for grazing. There’s a belief that cows are causing global warming, when if you take a wider view, cows are part of the solution.

The land is visibly deteriorating since the cattle were removed 12 or 13 years ago…I would like the opportunity to reverse this land degradation with holistic planned grazing.

Slow Food OC Builds Bridges and Community Gardens to Connect County to Agricultural Roots and Local Food

slow food oc jeremy samson gardening class

Jeremy Samson of Slow Food Orange County leads a gardening class. (photo courtesy of Jeremy Samson/Slow Food Orange County)

A member of Slow Food USA, Slow Food Orange County aids in the establishment of school and community gardens, fosters food-centered education and camaraderie, and highlights those who promote Slow Food principles. In keeping with the principles, Slow Food Orange County works toward the establishment of a food system that is fresh, seasonal and local; healthy and nutritious; fair to its producers; and accessible to everyone.

Gardening is one of Slow Food Orange County’s primary focus areas. So when steering committee chair Jeremy Samson moved to Anaheim a few years ago, he was surprised to by the city’s dearth of public gardens.

“In 2012 there were no community gardens in Anaheim,” says Samson, who grew up in Maine and is well-versed in Slow Food culture.

He moved to Anaheim after serving in the U.S. Navy, quickly joined the Master Gardeners of Orange County, and became involved in gardening and sustainability endeavors. Soon after joining Slow Food Orange County, he became chair of its School and Community Gardens program. Read more

6 Simple Ways To Support Local Food And Farmers

Kevin Prather, Mellowfields Urban Farm and Common Ground urban farmer, sells his produce at the Cottins Hardware Farmers Market. Image credit: Eileen Horn

Kevin Prather of Mellowfields Urban Farm and Common Ground urban farm, sells his produce at the Cottins Hardware Farmers Market. Image credit: Eileen Horn

Whether you are new to the local food scene, or you’ve been buying from your neighborhood farmers market for years, you’re making a big difference in the lives of small farmers and food distributors. But the food system is complicated. It’s not always clear how to spend your resources—whether to invest time or money—to best support your local food system.

So we’ve compiled six tips to make it even easier for you to support local food producers.

1. Shop at farmers markets

Farmers markets aren’t a new thing, but they have become much more visible and plentiful in many areas in recent years. Variety is the spice of life, so don’t limit yourself to staples you’ve eaten a thousand times. Farmers at the markets offer a diversity of fruits and vegetables and often provide recipes, or share easy ways to prepare foods with which you may not be so familiar.

For the best selection, arrive early. But for those days when errands, responsibilities, or much needed sleep-in time keep you from getting to the market at 7 a.m., never fear. Many vendors offer discounts on what’s left at the end of the day, and “ugly” produce that is harder to sell. Read more

Cooking Up Change Competition Puts OC High School Students in Charge of Lunch Menu

Jonathan Quispe and Elizabeth Castro won first place in the 2015 Orange County Cooking Up Change competition with their Mexican street tacos and motherland esquite. (photo courtesy Linda Franks/Kid Healthy)

Jonathan Quispe and Elizabeth Castro won first place in the 2015 Orange County Cooking Up Change competition with their Mexican Chicken Street Tacos, Motherland Esquite and Peachin’ Empanada (photo courtesy Linda Franks/Kid Healthy)

Who better to put in charge of creating healthy school lunch menu options than the students themselves. It might sound crazy to some, but eager Orange County high school students are taking on this challenge by participating in Cooking Up Change, an annual national culinary competition in which teams of student chefs strive to concoct healthy and delicious school meals. The program is part of the Healthy Schools Campaign and winning high school teams qualify for the national contest in Washington, D.C.

In Orange County the program is managed by Kid Healthy, an organization that focuses on reducing childhood obesity and promoting healthy diets.

Competing teams in the Orange County Cooking Up Change event, scheduled for April 21, will create a new lunch menu limited to common cafeteria ingredients and a $1.75 (per meal) budget. Judges will evaluate the recipes for creativity, nutrition and taste. Read more