As we come to the end of a tumultuous year and move toward a 2017 full of uncertainties, it seems a good time to consider GrowGood’s future. Though it may seem the cycles of seasons and harvests, pests and plantings are constant, we are part of a changing ideal: How can we create a viable urban farm that grows regionally relevant, open-pollinated crops and employs our neighbors from the Bell Shelter across the parking lot?
It is clear to me that our task is to find a way to bridge the world of one nonprofit farm off the beaten path with the world of gourmet cuisine in Los Angeles. It may seem like a bizarre model, funding food for homeless people by selling specialty produce to those with the most to spend, but it might be our best chance at making urban food mean something lasting.
Just how would that work? It's not hard to find people in Los Angeles who say they want to buy food that’s as local as possible from “responsible” purveyors. What keeps that from happening might be about reaching the people with good intentions and helping them make better choices. But it might also be true that the ways we talk about responsible food culture – “sustainable,” “local,” “organic” and others – have lost their meaning. The consequence can be that projects like GrowGood get swept up in “locavore” culture.
How are we different, after all? Our intention is to be part of a transition to a LosAngeles where we can support one another through a more conscious commerce and purchase goods that truly make this place better. We are thrilled that we have sent more than 7,000 pounds to the shelter’s kitchen this year. Providing jobs is also part of that. Funding those jobs with the sale of high-end microgreens is one way to do it, but it might be better to look for more responsible high-end crops, such as regionally adapted herbs and flowers.
But there’s larger goal, one that GrowGood is only a part of: growing crops that thrive here and that bring in a fair price. A price fair enough to pay a living wage so people who want to farm can support themselves and their loved ones. It’s no surprise that farming is back-breaking work. Hundreds of hours, joules of energy, even lives (adios, gophers) went into to that head of cabbage you might be chopping for kraut tonight. But you likely paid just a fraction of its true cost. And why? Because we are told that food should be as cheap as possible; as a percentage of our income, Americans pay less than nearly every other country for food. To us, that seems to contribute to our culture’s sense of separation – and in turn that separation inspires many people to look for connections with farmers and cooks and in sharing food.
So how do we sort all that out? The next step is to reimagine urban food as a real option. It may not be the most efficient, or the most cost-effective, but it provides a chance to heal ravaged parcels of land and the people who spend time there. We waste less fuel transporting produce, prioritize water conservation and responsibility, and look toward resilient seed-saving practices to grow crops that can stand up to the Los Angeles of tomorrow. This is the new urban agriculture: a way to make cities truly livable. A way to connect those of us living in lofts downtown to the soil -- what's beneath us no matter where we are. Connecting to urban food is not just a financial commitment, but that does matter a great deal. It's also a process of reclaiming the conversation about food. We hope you’ll join that conversation.
By Corinne McAndrews and Mary MacVean