Health / 2013

Farm on Wheels

Idea submitted in the My LA2050 Maker Challenge by LA-Más, Inc.

Farm on Wheels is a distribution system to bring locally-grown, high quality produce to all Los Angeles neighborhoods via a customized fleet of clean, biodiesel trucks. Using a centralized stockhouse for produce storage and a series of trucks to deliver a la carte fruits and vegetables, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) boxes, and locally made artisanal food to communities across the Southland, we will provide access to convenient, healthy food that is essential to good health. With access to fresh produce, Los Angeles residents will be better able to prevent and manage the health concerns of obesity, diabetes, and coronary disease.

Farm on Wheels trucks will serve as traveling hubs of healthy food. Departing from a central facility that stores wholesale produce from local farmers, the trucks will travel to communities across Los Angeles, setting up shop at churches, schools, transit centers, and employment centers, operating as a roving farmer’s market. This model offers advantages over traditional farmers markets, which usually come at high costs to farmers because of the labor involved in transporting and selling their goods. Also, customers that have difficulty reaching their weekly farmers market can now visit the truck that comes multiple times a week to accessible, well-trafficked locations.

The trucks won’t just deliver food, but act as vehicles for equity exchange between LA’s geographically and economically varied neighborhoods. Looking at a map of food deserts in Los Angeles, you notice they are heavily concentrated in South and East Los Angeles. It follows that these neighborhoods are also the site of higher rates of obesity and its associated chronic diseases such as diabetes and hypertension. Aside from giving residents of these underserved communities access to the farmers markets that are usually reserved for more privileged parts of Los Angeles, there will be more direct exchanges of equity through subsidized products. For example, patrons purchasing produce with EBT will receive a bonus on every dollar spent at Farm on Wheels. Also, a number of free monthly CSA boxes will be funded through revenue from the sale of artisanal goods and CSA subscriptions. All of these alternative revenue sources will combine to make Farm on Wheels accessible and affordable.

Unhealthy diet leads to obesity, hypertension, high cholesterol, diabetes, and a host of other chronic diseases. By providing access to fruits and vegetables to the communities that are most in need, Farm on Wheels will help reverse the trend of poor diet and its associated health risks. These trucks can providing the building blocks for a balanced diet that will be the foundation in transforming these food deserts to health havens.

What are some of your organization’s most important achievements to date?

Farm on Wheels is a product of the partnership between LA-Más and Mia Lehrer + Associates. Since its inception, the partnership between Más and MLA has aimed to create sustainable communities comprised of innovative civic buildings, well-planned open spaces, and green infrastructure. In our combined efforts we employ a diverse method of research, planning, and design. All of our projects begin with a foundational immersive research phase, which uncovers new design considerations - leading to employable, innovative solutions.

In 2010 the founders of LA-Más, Inc. conducted a three-week immersive research program in partnership
with Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center in which we identified impediments to care for children with cerebral palsy.

Through this research we identified 
a need for hospital guidelines that prioritize the provision of spatial accommodations for children who had the greatest physical disabilities. This “Hierarchy of Needs” document served as a graphic outline for retrofitting children’s hospitals in the United States as well as internationally.

Mia Lehrer + Associates most important achievements have been their work on the Los Angeles River Revitalization Master Plan and Vista Hermosa Park. The Los Angeles River Revitalization Master Plan aims to transform 32 miles of concrete-lined river into public green space in the heart of one of America’s most populated cities. As a vital work of civic infrastructure, the river has the potential to integrate a divided city. Key civic leaders joined forces to fund a visionary and technical look at changing the river into a new amenity, a source of socio-economic revitalization and a crucial step towards re-greening the “City of Sprawl.” ML+A designed Vista Hermosa Park as an urban watershed demonstration project that accommodates community and school recreational programs, integrated with an extensive network of introduced natural features and ecosystems. Located at the edge of a dense residential zone, the park incorporates active recreation including a synthetic turf soccer field, trails, water features, a children’s adventure area and picnic areas in native habitat landscapes.

Please identify any partners or collaborators who will work with you on this project.

For this project, Mia Lehrer + Associates will be collaborating with Sqirl, and Coolhaus to create an extensive food network that will help supply the best produce and goods for Los Angeles. While we will be handling the design and build of the truck itself, these partners will ensure it stays well stocked.

 <p>      Jessica Koslow runs Sqirl, and she will help assemble the network of farmers and other food providers to get the best prices for a comprehensive produce stock.</p>

    <p>   Freya Estrella and Natasha Case own one of the most successful food truck franchises with Coolhaus. They will contribute to Farm on Wheels’ business plan, as well as providing seasonal flavors of their Coolhaus sandwiches.</p>

Please explain how you will evaluate your project. How will you measure success?

  <p> This project’s success will be evaluated on the number of customers reached and communities served. Farm on Wheels’ effectiveness is reliant on the trucks being stable food centers in the communities they serve. It is essential for neighborhood residents to be able to rely on Farm on Wheels as a steady source of affordable produce. So, aside from the typical economic measurements of financial sustainability, we will look at metrics such as number of farmer collaborators, high income vs. low income customers, and value above replacement of similarly priced food. By looking at these more informative statistics, we will be able to better serve the communities we engage with.</p>

  <p>     With the multiple revenue streams of CSA subscriptions, a la carte sales, and catering, Farm on Wheels will have diversified funds to support our mission of providing access to healthy food. The subscriptions themselves will provide a steady, predictable income stream that will allow us to thoughtfully expand to more trucks and more neighborhoods. As we add more trucks and more communities gain access, we will able to better tailor our goods to each individual neighborhood. These types of decisions and details will be informed by the previously mentioned statistics, as well as community surveys outreach.</p>

  <p>     Ultimately, we will measure our success by the shrinking area of food deserts. It is the ultimate goal of Farm on Wheels to ensure all Angelenos have access to healthy, affordable food, and over time we hope to see the dissipation of all food deserts.</p>

How will your project benefit Los Angeles?

   Farm on Wheels will benefit Los Angeles by creating new community hubs that provide Angelenos access to healthy, affordable food. Like farmers markets, each truck will serve as a place for people to have a more hands-on experience with food shopping.  

    Many residents of our city are currently denied access to fresh produce despite living near some of the most productive and diverse farmlands in the world. A lack of capital, resources, and mobility have combined to create large areas of Los Angeles with few grocery stores and an excess of fast food chains. Farm on Wheels will provide healthy alternatives to the processed foods that dominate low-income areas and give more frequent access to farm fresh produce to those who can’t make it to their weekly farmers market.

   In the long term, this access will translate into better health outcomes for customers. Steady sources of fruits and vegetables will supplement diets dominated by unhealthy, processed foods. Substituting in these healthy alternatives will help in the fight against obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.

   We envision Farm on Wheels as a roaming community hub. Through affiliations with community gardens and local farmers, we will facilitate produce exchanges and the sale of low cost goods to encourage community agriculture. Another community benefit will be educational programming that teaches kids the benefits of healthy eating and localized agriculture. All of this activity at the cart will strengthen community bonds and provide new ways for people to connect with food. 

What would success look like in the year 2050 regarding your indicator?

   Success in 2050 is a healthy Los Angeles. On a statistical level this means lower rates of diabetes, childhood obesity, asthma, and poor cardiac health, but more tangibly, a healthy Los Angeles would offer all its residents an integrated health system that takes into account all factors that influence health. This vision for a holistic health system includes the expansion of health clinics that offer affordable care to prevent minor issues from becoming severe health problems and providing the resources to manage and remediate chronic conditions.

In addition to outstanding and responsive healthcare facilities, the city of LA will provide infrastructure that encourages healthy lifestyles. The construction of subways, trains, bike lanes and other transit options has begun to transition the city from its car-centric ways and will contribute to a less polluted environment. Similarly, an increased focus on public green space will ensure children form healthy habits of regular exercise and an active lifestyle. It is essential for the city to provide the infrastructure to promote population health.

   Just as important as a health-oriented government is an active and motivated citizenry. The year 2050 in Los Angeles will have a completely transformed food landscape.  Localized food sources in the form of large community gardens will empower citizens to grow their own food and free them from a fluctuating food market. Also, community agriculture will encourage a healthy diet centered on fruits and vegetables, as opposed to the current prevalence of processed foods.

The combination of healthy diets and active public spaces will transform Los Angeles on a grand scale. Health discrepancies between rich and poor will be reduced and the whole population will be able to take part in the city’s progress and growth.