Environmental Quality / 2013
Chinatown Food Hub
Despite living in an agriculture-rich state, much of the food we eat in California is imported by large corporations from all across the world, traveling 1,500-2,500 miles on average. This adds 250,000 tons of greenhouse gases to our air every year – equal to the emissions from 40,000 cars. The impact of this has led to:
• Nearly 1,000 cases of asthma
• 16,870 missed school days
• 37 premature deaths
In contrast, local farmers struggle to find sales outlets for their produce. Many rely on farmers markets as their primary source of income, despite the widely acknowledged fact that farmers markets are highly unstable revenue sources. On a bad day, a farmer might make only $100 in sales – not nearly enough to cover the cost of gas and wages. At the same time, many small businesses in Los Angeles, such as the many family-owned small businesses in Chinatown, struggle to provide high quality produce at prices that local residents can afford.
SSG/Asian Pacific Islander Obesity Prevention Alliance (APIOPA) proposes to connect small, local farmers to small businesses in Chinatown and transform it into a regional food hub. By cutting out the middleman, we would reduce overhead costs to small businesses and customers, and guarantee a steady source of income for the small farmers, all the while reducing our food miles and greenhouse gas emissions. In other words, our idea is to establish a regional food hub that would serve as a model for systemic change to how food supply lines currently work. Creating such a mass infrastructure change in Chinatown requires a lot of planning, which is why our proposal is to use the allotted funding to develop a sound and detailed business plan, utilizing our grant period to do the necessary research, marketing analysis, branding, and strategic planning.
In Chinatown, we can successfully create a food hub by tapping into the current local small business community, and their knowledge of local markets and the community, to create a business model that not only provides healthy and affordable produce for residents, but also preserves the heart and soul of Chinatown. We will work directly with local Hmong and Filipino small farmers residing in Central California. These farmers generally grow Asian produce and make the trek down to Southern California once a week to sell at Farmers’ Markets. Under our regional food hub model, we would coordinate with the farmers to purchase their crops in bulk, and have this delivered to one central location in Chinatown. The idea is that if we create a regional food hub, we can then control some of the supply lines, therefore driving down prices for produce that may regularly be more expensive.
The beauty of this model is that we already have the supply (local Asian farmers) and the demand (residents, small businesses) for fresh Asian produce; what we need is funding to develop the logistics and implementation of the regional food hub, which includes the creation of a detailed business plan, technology and customer service development, and marketing/branding. With the funding, we would invest heavily in researching and developing these logistics because they are the key to establishing a successful and sustainable regional food hub.
What are some of your organization’s most important achievements to date?
• Established an Asian Community-Supported Agriculture program, working with local Hmong farmers and selling in Downtown Los Angeles and Historic Filipinotown. We have sold out all of our subscriptions.
• Implemented a program called SAFE for APIs with the policy goal of helping children maintaining a healthy weight through the improvement of public park facilities. The program addresses health disparities by seeking to increase access to physical activity in neighborhoods where Pacific Islander (PI) populations are the densest. Our program works with local government agencies, to adopt standards for safety, cleanliness, and culturally competent family programming to promote active and healthy lifestyles.
• Trained hundreds of students to become leaders in LA and our work with youth, as profiled in Hector Tobar's column for the LA times
• Worked with youth and policy experts to craft a community development policy described as "A Model of LA Planning," which will set strong environmental and equity protections for local residents
Please identify any partners or collaborators who will work with you on this project.
One of our key partners will be the Southeast Asian Community Alliance (SEACA). SEACA is a nonprofit organization based in Chinatown, whose mission is to empower Southeast Asian youth in their community. SEACA is an integral partner because not only do they have connections to youth and residents in Chinatown, but also have experience organizing small business owners in the community as well as local, regional, and national environmental organizations that can provide us with technical assistance.
Please explain how you will evaluate your project. How will you measure success?
We will measure the success of our project through the completion of our deliverables. More specifically, by the end of the grant period, all research will be completed and we will have a finished business plan, which includes technology, marketing, branding, and other aspects we need to successfully implement the regional food hub.
How will your project benefit Los Angeles?
Our vision is to have a triple bottom line: support local businesses and farms, provide vital sustenance to local communities, and support a greener environment.
Chinatown is home to over 15 markets that sell Asian produce. Currently many of these markets are getting the last pick of produce from suppliers because they cannot compete with the big box retailers; according to the owners, the profit margins are extremely narrow. With the regional food hub model, we would directly source to these markets and corner stores at an affordable rate while simultaneously reducing a key contributer to LA's pollution problem.
By connecting local businesses directly to local farmers, we have the ability to improve economic, health, and environmental outcomes in our community in the following ways:
• For every $100 spent at a local business, $45 stays in the community, compared to only $13 if the money is spent at a national chain store.
• Most chain stores source their produce from thousands of miles away, whereas our model will be sourcing produce from 200 miles away, significantly lowering our carbon footprint.
• Improving the type and quality of produce available will increase access, consumption, and demand of healthy, high quality, locally grown food by residents.
The regional food hub not only supports and grows the capacity of local small businesses, but it also helps do the same for the farmers we will work with. The regional food hub will invest funds early to developing our small business partners within the community. Workshops and capacity building for the local farmers and the small business owners we will be working with will be crucial in how well this model performs. By having stronger small businesses, Los Angeles will see great benefits not only from greater access to healthy food, but also from greater economic output and cleaner air. If we succeed in reducing just 0.01% of our food miles we will have 25 tons fewer of global warming gases in LA.
Here are some of the current facts about health in LA County:
• In LA City Council District 1, which includes Chinatown, adult obesity rates are at 23.3% and childhood obesity rates are at 27.8%. (CCPHA, Obesity and Mortality Report, 2011)
• Asians across Los Angeles County have low rates of eating 5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day; only 35.9% of Asians eat the recommended amount of produce in a given day. (CHIS, UCLA 2009)
• 53.9% of Chinatown residents are not eating the recommended 5 fruits and vegetables a day. (CHIS, UCLA 2005)
What would success look like in the year 2050 regarding your indicator?
Our vision for 2050 is to create a healthy and thriving system of locally sourced food in Chinatown that can serve as a model of sustainability for the rest of the City. By following through on our business plan and creating the actual Chinatown food hub, we will be connecting local farmers to local businesses and residents. We will be creating an alternative system that would ensure fair prices for consumers, fair wages for farmers and workers, and better air quality for the whole city. It is also our hope that because we are sourcing food locally, we would rebuild the connections between growers and consumers that have been largely abandoned by a more industrial food sourcing system.