Urban Geography: Community Gardens

Food security and sustainability were the main issues on this trip. We visited an urban farm and two community gardens.

This trip showed me different ways of practicing food sustainability and ways for local residents to have an alternate and healthy food source, which is also a type of food security for those of low income. We visited an urban farm and a community garden, which while both have the same basic goals, run their organizations in different ways and for somewhat different communities.

The urban farm, The Growing Experience (TGE), was created on a vacant lot by the Housing Authority of the County of Los Angeles (HACoLA) in 1996, according to the Growing Experience’s brochure on their website. This farm is mainly utilized by the residents of the Carmelitos Public Housing Community, who live just across the street and are mainly low income minority groups. Thus the people who work on the farm and those who benefit from it are not the typical affluent white people one tends to see at farmers’ markets as is argued in Alkon and others’ (2011) article.

Photos by GeoMaster.

As the authors say, most of the farm owners and customers are white while those working the farm are mostly nonwhites. In the case of TGE, minority farmers are directly providing and selling to fellow minority groups. This helps nonwhites avoid feeling unwelcomed at farmers’ markets and the prices at TGE are more affordable. This is why TGE is so important to the local community.

The brochure lists several ways that this project is both sustainable and beneficial to the community. First, the project uses what was a vacant lot, thus reducing maintenance costs. Second, besides providing a wide variety of food, it also has job and skills training for both adults and youth. Our guide, Manuel Cisneros, was such an individual, who received landscape training and now is the Agricultural Projects Coordinator. Third, they have a small farmers’ market, allowing the farmers to sell fresh and healthy produce to the community.

What I like most about this farm is both how they use the land (organic growing practices) and the surprising variety of crops. They use the land to its fullest extent by letting things grow almost as the plants please. I was surprised by how much was there, let alone the wide variety (apples, mangos, heirloom eggplant, etc.). I also enjoyed seeing the flowers and other non-edible plants they grow.

Photos by GeoMaster.

One sustainable practice that they implement was very interesting: aquaponics. An article by The Oregonian describes the process as one where fish excrement, which otherwise would build up in the tank and become toxic to the fish, is fed to plants, such as leafy greens, and this waste is a good fertilizer for the plants, which in turn creates clean water for the fish by removing these toxins. Thus they can provide an organic and sustainable way to fertilize plants while also raising fish. Cisneros mentioned how these fish, while not permitted to be sold, are cooked and eaten by the community on special days as a type of community celebration.

Photos by GeoMaster.

There is also a community garden located down the street that provides families with a way to not just get healthy food but also to be active in growing their own food and learning how to sustain themselves. The garden helps families save money on food, since they are provided tools, seeds and such, and they can receive nutrition education through workshops and events, according to TGE’s brochure. This though is not the only type of community garden available to Long Beach residents.

Photos by GeoMaster.

The organization, Long Beach Organic (LBO) runs eight different gardens in both north and south Long Beach. The one we visited was in north Long Beach but is called “South 40.” These gardens are open to the general public, and so anyone can rent a plot.

Our guide explained how previously, this land like the urban farm was a vacant lot. Unlike TGE, this land does not permanently belong to the people using it, in this case Long Beach Organic. It is owned by a private family, who allow LBO to use and maintain the garden until they can find someone to buy and develop it. This aspect of community gardens, their temporary status, causes me a little worry when I think about the negative effects of forcing someone to give up their plot. The guide said they can always move to another location, but a new location might not be as convenient for some people; it might be too far away for someone.

Photos by GeoMaster.

Thus this reminds me a bit of what happened to South Central Farm. In the video, we watched in class and the article by Lawson (2007), one can see how the problems of ownership, legal rights, development and money play huge roles and can bring about severe consequences. I think there need to be some kind of policy changes that would allow more permanent and stable community gardens, such as what was implemented for the Carmelitos Public Housing Community. While development and the construction of affordable housing is important, these projects should not be the only priority for helping communities.

Photos by GeoMaster.

Long Beach Organic provides a sustainable and beneficial activity to local residents, and for youth through training programs and internships. LBO’s community work days are a great way to for people to get to know each other and provide support and education for growing food and creating a healthier lifestyle. The potluck is a perfect way for people to enjoy eating what they have grown, and thus appreciate the experience of growing their own food. I like how even though this plot of land is significantly smaller than the urban farm, it is also used to its fullest extent with chicken coups, bee hives, a compost pile and a charity garden. This shows how beneficial and sustainable even small gardens can be to the local community and to a wider area.

Note: The majority of this post comes from a paper I wrote for the class dated April 18, 2014.


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