It’s a big world, so perhaps there’s an urban farmer or three out there who is in it solely for the money. Talk to enough urban farmers, though, and you come away feeling these are people who do it for the love of food ― good food, fresh food, healthy food, real food. They love food but not the status quo of quantity over quality; of ridiculously complex, petroleum-guzzling supply chains; of mass-produced, preservative-laced, nutritionally dubious foodstuff.
They know there’s a better way, and they do what they do to prove it, to be part of the solution, providing not only quality food directly to their communities but creating an example for others to follow. Yes, they’d like to make money ― a necessary evil in this world ― but that’s not what drives them.
No surprise, then, that despite their own difficulties, urban farmers in our area have been volunteering time, labor, and of course food to help those most in need during the COVID-19 crisis.
A few Long Beach farms are targeting aid to specific vulnerable populations. The Growing Experience, for example, didn’t have to look far to find a way to step up. A seven-acre farm and community garden located in the Carmelitos Public Housing Development in North Long Beach, Growing Experience staff have been providing bags of produce to seniors within Carmelitos ― and doing so in the absence of any extra funding.
“Initially the L.A. County Development Authority [which oversees Carmelitos] wanted to stop all operations completely,” says Program Manager Holly Carpenter. “However, our staff pushed to be open to give away [our produce. …] We have been operating on reduced staff hours so we had to cancel our CSA [Community Supported Agriculture] veggie box orders during this time, [but] we set-up a quick pick-up right in front of the Carmelitos Senior Center, which allows residents with mobility issues to only have to come a short distance or have a neighbor pick up a bag for them.”
The Growing Experience is able to give away 30 bags of produce per week, each containing six items that may include collard greens, green onions, swiss chard, beet greens, beets, turnips, oranges, lemons, limes, salad mix, artichokes, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, avocados, and eggs. Carpenter looks forward to giving away even more.
“We are hoping to resume to full-time [operations] soon,” she says. “However, until [then] we are limited in our ability to grow and produce more bags to give away. […] We don’t know how long we will be maintaining this ― it depends on when our management decides we can resume our normal CSA and produce sales. But for the time being, I see us continuing through June.”
In March, Farm Lot 59, a half-acre food oasis in Central Long Beach, launched a Farm-to-Family Program for the Elizabeth Anne Seton Residence (better known as “Seton House”), which offers emergency shelter to families, pregnant women, disabled, and elderly persons experiencing homeless.
“With our restaurant partners shuttered, we designed a program to make the best use of our harvest to meet the immediate needs of our community,” says Farm Lot 59 founder Sasha Kanno. “Together with Chef Eugene Santiago of Baryo, we […] are providing 120 healthy, fresh, organic meals per week for residents and staff of Seton House. […] We have secured funding to continue this program through June 8, and we are actively seeking additional donors to extend the program.”
Meanwhile, Long Beach Organic, a nonprofit dedicated to “locat[ing] urban vacant lots from public and private owners and turn[ing] them into beautiful community gardens for local and sustainable food production,” is donating additional produce from their eight gardens to the food pantry operated by Cal State Long Beach.
“In the midst of our own semi-shutdown, the Long Beach Organic board decided to dedicate more of our produce ― about 100 pounds per week so far ― to the food bank [as a replacement for] our usual round of spring/summer projects: community work days, cooking and gardening classes, kids’ program, fundraising dinners, etc., all of which are cancelled during the shutdown,” says Joe Corso, the nonprofit’s garden director. “We [gardeners] can still work with each other with social distancing and benefit the community in a badly needed way.”
Corso says the extra food is the result of “those who can to donate each week. The gardeners at our various gardens leave produce on Thursdays. I drive around and take it to the Zaferia Junction Garden, where a few volunteers wash, sort, and bag it. Mark [Smerkanich, an LBO volunteer] picks it up on Friday morning and drives it to the school. We have managed to do all this with proper social distancing. As the program expands it will involve more volunteers and drivers.”
Long Beach Organic has also expanded the number of charity plots at their gardens, converting formerly empty plots and community areas into designated plantings for the Beach Pantry, work they were able to effect in part due to a $1,500 grant they received from the Long Beach Community Foundation’s Coronavirus Relief Fund. “These new plantings will bear much more produce in the coming months, and our gardeners will also be able to share their summer bounty as the season progresses,” Corso says.
In San Pedro, Feed & Be Fed reports they are delivering about 10 pounds of produce from their small 6th Street garden each week to those in need ― particularly seniors and disabled persons ― and to San Pedro Meals on Wheels. “And as our spring harvest comes in, we anticipate being able to offer small bags of produce to our larger community,” says board member Christian Guzman, who adds that a second garden (currently being built in northwest San Pedro) “will probably have a crop for harvest at the end of summer.”
On the other hand, Green Girl Farms has focused on fostering food self-sufficiency in San Pedro.
“Out of concern for our volunteers and clientele, we closed the farm to the public when the shelter-in-place orders took effect,” says founder Lara Hughey. “At the beginning of the order, we were in the process of removing spent winter crops and replacing them with summer crops, so did not have food to sell or donate. Instead we’ve been donating seedlings and seeds so that our community can be growing their own food.”
Hughey says the giveaways, which are announced via Green Girl Farms email and social media, generally take place at least twice a month, with members of the public pre-ordering their seeds/seedlings of choice to ensure minimal contact during curbside pick-up. “So far we have given away over 700 seedlings and nearly 500 packets of seeds,” she reports.
Food self-sufficiency is also the thrust of North Long Beach Victory Garden’s efforts ― not only during the crisis, but going forward into better days. Over the last couple of months this offshoot of the University of California Master Gardener Victory Garden Program has given away over 2,000 seedlings they received from the Fullerton College horticulture program and Seeds of Hope.
“The [giveaways] this spring were directly focused on fulfilling the increase in the numbers of people wanting to grow fruits and veggies as COVID-19 kept them at home,” says Master Gardener Jeff Rowe. “[…] I set a goal of fostering the creation of 1,000 backyard farms in Long Beach.”
In addition to growing food, in normal times the North Long Beach Victory Garden offers free vegetable- and fruit-growing classes, which Rowe says are currently being brought into the virtual world for home consumption.
“Several Master Gardeners from Los Angeles County are working feverishly to convert the Victory Garden curriculum to an online package so we can expand our ability to teach people how to become backyard farmers,” he says. “[…] In a sense, everything we’ve been doing at the North Long Beach Victory Garden was a preparation for [COVID-19] ― to get people to become more self-sufficient and to experience the taste thrill of eating freshly harvested food.”
COVID-19 has created a new normal, one that in the short term is causing some among us to struggle with the most basic of needs: food. Our urban farms are not only addressing this struggle in the short term, but also attempting to make increased food self-sufficiency a part of our new normal, a shift that will stand us in good stead in good times and bad.
If you are in need of food, desire more information, or want to volunteer or donate to one of the urban farms/gardens profiled in this article…:
THE GROWING EXPERIENCE
750 Via Carmelitos, Long Beach 90805
(562) 984-2917; email@example.com
FARM LOT 59
2714 California Ave., Long Beach 90755
LONG BEACH ORGANIC
(562) 438-9000; firstname.lastname@example.org
NORTH LONG BEACH VICTORY GARDEN
6509 Gundry Ave., Long Beach 90805
FEED & BE FED
429 W. 6th St., San Pedro 90731
GREEN GIRL FARMS
390 W. 14th St., San Pedro 90731