The following is an opinion statement by Tony Damico, Co-Director of Long Beach Fresh, on LA County Development Authority’s Scale-down of Growing Experience Urban Farm and Community Garden at 750 Via Carmelitos Ave, starting with closure of the weekly farmstand and their elimination of staff positions.
As a leader of a community-based organization focused on food security and a healthy environment, I’m saddened by the planned change of operations at Growing Experience. LB Fresh has supported numerous projects at Growing Experience, and it’s been a critical resource for dozens of older adults living across the street, who line up weekly for an impressive array of cultural and seasonal produce.
The farm has also been a hub for community learning, from youth-focused social enterprise programs, to sharing cutting edge innovation in growing sustainability. Neighbors at Carmelitos learned and shared their own cooking knowledge, and were able to grow their own healthy food. While there seems to be interest at the County level in supporting some programming for the next one to three years, the reduction in staff is a huge loss in talent and resources.
Still,there’s no lack of talent in our City when it comes to growing local food and community health, there’s only a lack of investment and collaboration. As a group that convenes dozens of local food improvement projects, we’ve seen a few urban farms developed in the past year, often feeding communities most at risk. The City’s newly modernized policies for urban agriculture have opened up some vacant lots, creating new opportunities. Still, Growing Experience represents more than 70% of the activated urban farm space in Long Beach.
For local decision makers, the change marks a couple important realities: First, this project is a unique outlier in the practices of development corporations. Until they have real goals to integrate health-protective policies in affordable housing, these projects don’t stand on solid ground. Secondly, empowering community organizations to manage space is a viable alternative to management by large institutions – whether it’s through the community land trust model, or through efficient partnerships with urban farmers and community organizations.