August 20, 2013


New Research on Urban Farming

A group of graduate students in urban planning at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs has created the first comprehensive picture of urban agriculture in Los Angeles County, according to the California Department of Food and Agriculture.

While farming has long been the domain of rural landscapes, increasing interest in the local-food movement, healthy eating and sustainable cities has sparked the growth of farming in urban environments. The new report, “Cultivate L.A.: An Assessment of Urban Agriculture in L.A. County,” is intended to aid city planners as they learn how to accommodate these new land uses in the nation’s most populous county.

Project managers also expect the data to be a useful tool for urban agriculture practitioners and start-up entrepreneurs seeking information about current and future business models and siting opportunities for urban agriculture enterprises. Advocates, such as the Los Angeles Food Policy Council, will use the research to inform efforts to create a more seamless infrastructure and support system for urban agriculture in Los Angeles County’s food ecosystem.

The researchers produced an interactive map detailing the location of every formal urban agriculture site across the county, excluding residential backyard gardens. The map is supplemented by a report, downloadable from the same website, with in-depth analysis. The report includes an appendix that catalogs laws and regulations governing urban agriculture in each of L.A. County’s 88 municipalities, case studies and other resources.

Urban agriculture, as defined in the report, is any undertaking that produces, processes, distributes or sells fruits, vegetables, livestock, floral goods or other materials in urban settings or their immediate surroundings.

Among the group’s findings:

  • There are a total of 1,261 verified urban agriculture sites — categorized as school gardens, community gardens and commercial primary growing sites — in Los Angeles County.

  • L.A. County’s urban agriculture activity encompasses school gardens with 761 sites and commercial agricultural operations (nurseries and farms) total 382 sites, and community gardens. Unclear, complex and conflicting regulations were found to constrain agricultural entrepreneurs.

  • Definitions for agricultural activities in municipal codes vary widely across the county, making it difficult — if not impossible — for urban farmers to operate in compliance with local health and zoning regulations.

  • L.A. County’s urban farmers travel an average of 13.9 miles to distribute their goods versus the 46.8-mile average traveled by the county’s farmer’s market vendors.

The University of California Cooperative Extension-Los Angeles County assisted professors and students in this project. UCCE, part of the University of California’s Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, works with home gardeners and commercial agriculture but has only recently begun a coordinated effort to address the needs of urban farmers.