By Tiffany Rider - Senior Writer
August 14, 2012 - At a time when exceptional drought in the United States, coupled with rising food prices, is cause for concern, Long Beach residents are taking matters into their own hands.
According to the USDA, food prices are expected to increase 2.5 to 3 percent overall in 2012. The forecast for food costs in 2013 is an increase of 3 to 4 percent. To this end, people across the nation have moved to growing their own vegetables, fruits and herbs to supplement their grocery needs.
Several businesses and local organizations across the city support the growing local agriculture movement in Long Beach, including GreenCoast Hydroponics.
GreenCoast Hydroponics, which started in Oakland in the early 2000s, offers nutrients, composts and supplies for gardeners looking to grow in a more organic manner. While organic products have been tied to higher prices, GreenCoast’s Web Manager Adam Ansari said buying in bulk and growing crops properly will lead to a cost savings.
“If you lay the seeds for a very good environment, every subsequent harvest you have in that bed will produce better results than the last time,” Ansari told the Business Journal. “A problem people have is that they over-fertilize or under-fertilize their beds, and then they don’t properly produce the following year. With us, we teach you different ways of inter-planting for the different plants to help each other grow and ward off different pests. Hydroponic gardening shows people that you don’t need a whole lot of money or resources to produce good quality food, which will rival foods you can get at Whole Foods or a farmers’ market.”
Even the City of Long Beach has set an example for local food gardening and agriculture with the establishment of The Civic Center Edible Garden in 2009.
Located just outside of city hall, the garden demonstrates to visitors and city employees that it is possible to grow food in a limited space, according to Larry Rich, sustainability coordinator with the City of Long Beach. “You don’t necessarily need a yard,” he said. “You can grow in containers on your patio or on your balcony and so on.”
Ansari agreed. “It doesn’t matter if you live in an apartment or condo, you can still have an abundant, flourishing food source,” he said. “Many of the products we carry in the store could help someone accomplish setting up a container garden on their rooftop or balcony.”
Growing Food To Build Community
Ryan Serrano, a Long Beach horticulturist and native landscaper, founded Foodscape to help build and maintain food gardens on properties in town. The goal is to build a farm network that will increase local food production, assist the underserved and build community connections.
“Long Beach has a lot of resources at its disposal that are just under activated,” Serrano said. Foodscape is making an effort to activate Long Beach yards through a concept called yard sharing. Through Foodscape’s website, http://www.foodscapelb.blogspot.com, someone who is looking for space to garden can put out a request, and Foodscape helps match them up with people who have yards but don’t want to garden.
For those who are looking for a more social gardening experience, or don’t have proper conditions for growing food at home, renting a plot at a community garden or participating in urban farming are options. In Long Beach, there are about 15 community gardens. Many of them are on city property or are on private property under contract with the city.
Community gardens have plot waiting lists, depending on availability, and growers must work within the regulations of each garden. One of the smallest gardens is located at 1st Street and Elm Avenue with 10 plots. The largest, the Long Beach Community Garden located at El Dorado Park, has 300 plots. There are more community gardens being developed, according to Rich, including one at Orizaba Park.
While community gardening and growing food at home may be age-old concepts, a more recent development in the local agriculture movement is urban farming. Long Beach has several urban farms, including Farm Lot 59, which is on city property at Willow Street and California Avenue; Gladys Avenue Urban Farm, a private property at Gladys Avenue and Anaheim Street; and The Growing Experience at the Carmelitos Housing Project, 1000 E. Via Wanda.
The concept is that a professional farmer or farmers use the land to grow as much fruits and vegetables as they can to sell at a farmers market. Long Beach urban farms produces farm boxes that, depending on the farm, may be purchased on site or for delivery. Farm boxes include seasonal vegetables harvested from the associated farm.
“It speaks to the local food movement,” Rich said. “People want to know where their food is coming from and know that it’s not traveling far. The closer it is to them, the better. They know it’s being grown at a farm in Long Beach. In some cases, the farm stand is right next to the farm. There is a lot of comfort in that. It isn’t necessarily cheaper than buying at the supermarket, so there is a tradeoff there being locally grown and perhaps organically grown, but people are willing to bear that additional cost to have the knowledge of where it is coming from and that it was grown in Long Beach.”
In addition, organizations like Long Beach Grows as advocates for revising the city’s urban agriculture ordinance for raising chickens for eggs, goats for milk and bees for honey within city limits. “Based on the local food movement, there has been some interest in revising those rules,” Rich said. “That effort has been working its way through the sustainable committee.”
Long Beach Grows founder Donna Marykwas said her organization started a petition to do just that. “Our goal is to provide food security through urban agriculture and small-scale animal husbandry,” she said. For more information on the urban agriculture ordinance and its proposed revisions, call 562/570-5839.
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