On August 5, 2014, Long Beach Fresh attended a meeting of the California State Board of Food and Agriculture. It was a truly informative session, and an opportunity to share our projects with those in attendance. LB Fresh coordinators Tony and Ryan were joined by Ina Parker-Hicks from Greener Good Farmer’s Market and Griselda Suarez from Sliced & Diced Eatery (pictured).
We’re excited to share a report here, and we encourage you to learn more about the participating groups and programs. Feel free to contact us if you have any questions.
Meeting in a “Food Desert”
The Board departed its normal Sacramento location, where it usually meets and advises the State Secretary on food and agricultural issues, to host its board meeting in Compton, Calif.
Nearly 1 million people in California, including people in parts of Compton, live in “Food Deserts.” “Food Deserts” are defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for overall lack of access to grocery stores and fresh foods (full map here). Putting it clearly in his presentation, Compton City Manager G. Harold Duffey said, “In Compton, we only have 2 markets in a city of 100,000 people.”
The Boardmembers, many of whom have rural farm backgrounds (such as sustainable rice farmer Bryce Lundberg of Lundberg Family Farms), were moved by the stories of struggle and triumph, and asked about the sensitivity of the term “food desert.”
Compton City Manager G. Harold Duffey said he liked the term because it makes people take notice. Boardmember Eric Holst mentioned that “…deserts are actually known for the resilience of their inhabitants. And that certainly looks like what we’ve had here.”
Compton’s Creative Food Solutions
The day included a fascinating panel as well as individual testimonies of challenges and solutions that many L.A. organizations have been working with.
The community and City of Compton have joined forces with LA Metro to create an innovative “Blue Line Farmer’s Market” every Thursday along the Metro Blue Line.
In addition, the community has identified Richland Farms, a partially undeveloped agricultural zone and host to horses and family garden plots, as an area for possible urban agriculture opportunities.
Food Access Initiatives in the Greater Los Angeles Area
The Board hosted a lively panel discussion on food access initiatives. Panelists included:
- Neelam Sharma of Community Services Unlimited which has setup a low-cost CSA and popup markets for South L.A. residents.
- Robert Egger, the founder of L.A. Kitchen, a program that helps employ chronically underemployed individuals to turn donated foods like carrots into carrot juice and ready-to-eat sliced carrots, to sell to senior housing and other public contracts.
- Tiffany McDaniel of the Community Health Councils Inc. which has been setting up pop-up markets in South L.A.
- Michael Prelip from the UCLA Center for Population Health studied obesity in East LA and found that the children were the key to success in changing behavior and taking ownership for their health.
Inspiring Food Projects and Initiatives
David Rosenstein of EVO Farm shared his history of aquaponics farming with vivid illustrations of tufts of crops growing aquaponically in pre-Colombian Mexico City. He fast forwarded to his career driving “Davis bouncing tomatoes” up and down the state, to his aquaponics experiment in South L.A. that got him focused on aquaponics as a solution to fresh food in cities.
Rosenstein shared the impressive yields of his aquaponics (6-10 times higher than conventional growing with 1/10th the water usage) and shared plans for a major facility he is building in San Francisco.
Kaiser Permanente gave a presentation on the California Freshworks Fund, which incentivizes supermarkets to establish locations in food deserts. The fund has worked with Northgate Gonzales Markets because of their Viva la Salud healthy eating program and other high standards.
We were joined via Skype by Amanda Musilli of Whole Foods Market who recently had the pleasure of opening a Whole Foods in Detroit. She explained that the company realized they should open stores in more locations to service all types of communities. Whole Foods worked closely with the Detroit community to design the store, including everything from store layout to magazine selection. Musilli said she looks forward to opening more locations like this one.
The Challenges of Placing Fresh Food in Small Stores
Jin Ju Wilder of Valley Produce, a full line produce wholesaler with 24,000 sq. ft. of produce at the LA Produce Market, explained the issues of getting fresh produce to small markets. Wilder explained that in many cases, “Small convenience stores don’t want to order on credit, they don’t want to make the investment in equipment to display and store fresh produce, and spoilage is a scary thought to them.”
Wilder also pointed to a separate experiment her company initiated: placing a high-end farm stand adjacent to a department store in a mall. The farm stand distributed unique fruits and vegetables and fresh produce baskets, but could not make the location viable: “There’s only so much someone will spend on an apple,” explained Wilder.
An Inspiring Day for Long Beach
It was an incredibly inspiring day for Long Beach Fresh attendees and many others. We’re excited by the opportunities to connect with innovative thinkers in Los Angeles and beyond: by working together and sharing ideas, we can bring even more creative and effective solutions to Long Beach.
Boardmembers were both receptive and deeply interested in the solution-oriented approaches being taken by communities like Compton. We look forward to working more closely with food policy agencies and the California State Board of Food and Agriculture in the future.