Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Farm Urbanity Awakes

 A trend has taken hold in California and our local communities that brings our culture closer to that of Europe's traditions. Urban farming, taking the form of fruit and vegetable produce as well as bees, chickens and goats, has started to blossom. The idea has gone beyond the P-patch communal urban plot originally out of Seattle, Washington. The "P" stood for "Picardo", after the family who owned Picardo Farm in Seattle's Wedgwood neighborhood, part of which became the first P-Patch.

Locally, Los Angeles County has reversed its position on excluding urban farming, mostly because of its outdated rigid zoning ordinances, and is developing guidelines for this practice. The City of Los Angeles is drafting ordinances, as well. Eric Garcetti, a councilmember and gardener, pushed for the amendment to the city's General Plan that allows these urban gardens to flourish.

In San Gabriel, Jennifer Little is now farming on her property:

Little’s business model is so rare in Los Angeles that the coordinator for a study she’s participating in on urban agriculture through the UC Extension Program often tells her that there’s hardly anyone else in the city doing what she does. She wonders if that might mean she’s “crazy, or revolutionary.” “There are lots of great things about being an urban farmer,” she said. “For one, it's really nice to be home together all the time. Also it feels really good to work hard all day in the dirt with the sun beating down on you, and even though we don't make much money, we know we earn every penny.”

Even very small communities are getting into the act. San Marino has started an ordinance to allow raising chickens on property in a very exclusive residential community. The precedent here, however, is embodied in the Huntington Library in San Marino, which goes back to the local agricultural heritage in Southern California. It celebrates its food production in The Ranch, which is part of the estate grounds, and there is still a small section of orange groves around the Huntington mausoleum that was part of the citrus fruit industry that was established all over Southern California in the last century.

Pasadena's contribution to the local garden movement is Arlington Garden, a public garden on leased Cal Trans property. It was the site of the opulent, 17,000-square-foot Durand Mansion built in 1901 and demolished in the early 1960s. After Cal Trans acquired the property, it stood vacant for 40 years. In 2003 Councilmember Steve Madison and former city manager Cynthia Kurtz approached Caltrans about the possibility of leasing the property for city purposes. Madison hosted several community meetings in 2004 during which residents gave input on potential uses ranging from active recreation, such as soccer fields, to passive use, such as a park. The Mediterranean garden eventually arose as the final citizen concept, and is open to the public.

The trend, spurred by public rejection of corporate farming, imported foods and GMO crops, is an example of citizens taking back control of the renewal of their public and urban spaces for the common good. It also provides a future hedge against the looming food shortages of climate change. Forward-looking cities and regions are discussing strategies for adaptation to a hotter and more crowded planet.