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live / 2014

Original Green Community Food Hub

Idea submitted in the My LA2050 Maker Challenge by home&community inc

We're creating the next generation of agricultural entrepreneurs in South LA via a homestead, online foodhub and incubator/co-working space.

Please describe yourself.

Proposed collaboration (we want to work with partners!)

In one sentence, please describe your idea or project.

We engage in food justice helping low-income food entrepreneurs in South Los Angeles create family businesses that reduce food insecurity.

Does your project impact Los Angeles County?

Yes (benefits a region of LA County)

Which area(s) of LA does your project benefit?

  • South LA

What is your idea/project in more detail?

OGCFH trains low-income, food producers in South LA, in the production and distribution of farm-fresh food. We increase small-scale producer growth capacity and access to markets via business development and sustainable practices.

Our business incubator and homestead includes a commercial kitchen and growing space. Our goals are threefold: decrease numbers of food-insecure families; develop 19 small-scale businesses practicing innovative and sustainable farm techniques; start an online food hub/aggregator to increase access to fresh food. The current cadre of producers will join 15 more in a three-month curriculum combining business development, open source technology, farm automation and advanced growing and permaculture methods.

What will you do to implement this idea/project?

The Original Green Community Food Hub helps low-income farm entrepreneurs create businesses in South LA that are economically and environmentally sustainable. The project: transforms food systems so children and families have healthier foods in their communities; improves community access to good food; and reinvigorates local economies.

We’ve worked with residents in the hub area since November 2009 and have established a co-working homestead with a growing site and commercial kitchen, for low-income food entrepreneurs to develop businesses in an incubator setting. We will support at least 19 entrepreneurs during the budget period. Most will grow at their own sites on an average of .01 acres, producing about 4000 pounds of food annually. When all are certified (by March 2015) the food hub will have the capacity to impact 200,000 residents in nearby communities.

Integral to our food hub is the online aggregator we developed. It represents the local food market – populated and informed by local entrepreneurs, small yard farms, larger vacant lot farms, restaurants utilizing their produce and consumers. The area is seeing intense attrition and outright loss of large grocery stores. The online food hub fills some of that niche, providing information about local restaurants and healthy food markets that buy local, in addition to location and availability of production resources like our commercial kitchen. The online tool informs consumers about community-based distribution sites (for producers in the food hub) and allows producers to tell their own story about how, why and when they grow. In addition to facilitating connections between consumers and producers, it brings resources to the community and promotes social entrepreneurship and food justice.

In 12-months, we will undertake the following: establish a business incubator and co-working space for beginning food producers; launch farmer training and mentoring programs (including a three-month, farm development and certification curriculum) to support producers in their first through third years of establishment; offer four workshops for producers and community members to learn about local food access issues and solutions; and connect with local and national urban farming training organizations to share project outcomes and replicate best practices.

We are also pursuing acquisition of 67,000 square feet of growing space in the food hub area, which will significantly expand healthy food options.

How will your idea/project help make LA the healthiest place to LIVE today? In 2050?

Presently and in 2050, our project expands individual and community health by increasing access to healthy food options. It also expands health by reinvigorating and strengthening local economies that support healthy activities. Residents are more able to meet dietary recommendations when there is a positive and robust local food environment.

A food hub, by addressing the barriers small producers have to joining the food supply chain, increases access to fresh, local food. With the support of the food hub, small producers are able to participate in sales to residents who receive food assistance. The use of sustainable agricultural practices also contributes to local health by decreasing the negative impact of agriculture on the environment.

It is well-established that increasing the availability of local, fresh food options improves health outcomes now, and it follows that with increased opportunities and activities, this will be even more so in 2050. Implementing the project now, we can reduce food insecurity for 10% of area residents. Nearly two-thirds of adults in the area reported that it was difficult to access fresh fruits and vegetables. The California Agricultural Resource Directory reports that, per year, one acre of land in Los Angeles can produce 25 tons of fruits and vegetables, generate $220,000, supply 36 families fruits and vegetables and create at least three green jobs. Various studies about the area also show that every dollar invested in food production yields $6 worth of produce. Working pursuant to these factors, in 12 months the project and its 19 grower families will decrease numbers of food insecure families by: providing fresh produce, weekly, to nearly100 local households; providing approximately 75,000 pounds of fresh, locally grown produce to residents in South Los Angeles; and achieving a minimum of 360 unique food sales per month.

Food security is derived from a sustainable food system. As more residents are engaged in the local food economy, the system becomes more sustainable. A local food supply chain, one that is also informed and supplied by local residents, improves the local economy and gives rise to food justice. It also encourages the local knowledge that bonds a community and inspires social equity.

We seek to improve community health not just physically, but socially and economically. All that we do now and succeed in will have positive impact and support future residents.

Whom will your project benefit?

Our clients are all at (or very well below) the Area Median Income and live primarily in the wider communities of South Los Angeles.

The population of approximately 200,000 surrounding our site is primarily African-American and Latino with women heads of household in the majority. Ten percent of that population is children under five-years-old. One-in-six residents is low-income and food insecure. The unemployment rate in the neighborhood is near 74% higher than the county average.

All of the project participants will be low-income, socially disadvantaged, beginning food producers. The entire project budget will be used to address this population.

The target audience consists of food producers and consumers. Our producers are low-income food entrepreneurs in South Los Angeles. They are being recruited from approximately 200 households in the 1/4 mile radius of the homestead / business incubator site. They are at or below 50% of the Area Median Income (considered “very low” and “extremely low” income). Seventy-five percent of the residents we serve are at very low income – 50% of AMI. Fifteen percent are at extremely low median income – 30% of AMI. Five percent self-identify as homeless. The area has the highest rate of childhood obesity in Los Angeles County and 1-in-6 residents is likely to experience food insecurity.

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

Participants have been contacted and recruited through outreach and association with local organizations including Community Coalition, LA Green Grounds, and the Baldwin Hills-Crenshaw Farmers Market. New participants will be recruited in the same manner as well as through partners who sit on the Food Policy Roundtable of the Community Health Councils. All of our new participants are in the beginning phase of their businesses.

There is no food hub in South Los Angeles. Our work will be the first organized and developed system. In the immediate area, we have a relationship with the manager of the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw farmers market. Since 2010, we have worked with community organizations educating residents about access to healthy food options along with our own work supporting those who grow and prepare their own food for distribution. We also access a number of guerilla gardeners who are sharing and growing food with neighbors but could reach and connect with consumers in South Los Angeles on a broad scale through our food hub network.

Three factors critical to success of any of our proposed collaborations are: increased access to local actors already interested in food production and consumption of healthy food; increased access to people working in the food justice and social equity arena, so integral to community improvement and overall health; and increased access to people who are actively growing quality food in local spaces.

How will your project impact the LA2050 “Live” metrics?

  • Access to healthy food
  • Number of households below the self-sufficiency standard
  • Obesity rates
  • Percentage of LA communities that are resilient (Dream Metric)

Please elaborate on how your project will impact the above metrics.

We alleviate the area’s food insecurity and improve the health and financial outcomes of low-income families by supporting local food producers and connecting them to the consumers who value the food they provide. It is often cited that the area has one of the highest rates of obesity in the county, and also as often cited that intake of and access to fresh food can reduce that rate.

We focus on improving the health of families and children. The food hub represents for local children an ongoing, immersive experience with food production and delivery. It complements local Farm to School programs serving schools where, the City’s Good Food for All report states, school-aged children consume about 19 - 50% of their calories. But, according to the 2010 Health Atlas for City of Los Angeles, approximately 10% of the population in the project area is under 5 years. This is almost 20,000 children near the site who are not yet in schools that provide lunch and food programs. Our project begins in homes where children under five must experience their first exposure to healthy food choice. For older children, it supports school access points.

Self sufficiency is directly related to the sustainability of the system. Helping low-income families improve themselves and their neighborhoods, while providing sustainable health and economic benefits has a direct impact on children. The entire family gains ownership over its food choices with hands-on growing and food preparation.

Like their parents and caregivers, each child receives direct engagement with food production and preparation. They participate in an innovative three-month curriculum to develop the family food growing business, with curricula modified to support various age groups. Children will specifically be engaged in new technologies (ie: Arduino boards, farm automation) that support the DIY/Maker culture and STEM activities that frame their futures.

We strive to create and support a resilient community in South LA. Resilient communities bounce back from adversity. They promote sustainable practices that help them shape their own future. Community resiliency is small scale, local and grassroots. And it is also marked by diversity (ie: independent and local ownership). We create informal spaces where people interact, discover similar values, cultural customs and participate in running their community. In a resilient community, quality of life improvements create security.

Please explain how you will evaluate your project.

We expect the following two impacts in five years: decreased food insecurity; increased local, fresh food production.

We will track outcomes and their impacts by identifying the milestones that lead up to their completion. The first expected impact will be documented by comparing pre and post project numbers for percentage of existing food insecure households in a prescribed area, percentage of consumers from the area, percentage of sales in the project area, percentage of health change/improvement data in the area (from other data sources). We will then evaluate those findings to determine the benefit of our project.

The second expected impact will be documented by comparing pre and post project numbers for percentage of new farmers, percentage who continued to engage in organic and sustainable practices, percentage changes in farmer production, percentage of producers using advanced and innovative farm technologies; number change of inquiries and requests to enter the program, percentage of changes in income and revenue. Participants will be surveyed both before and after the curriculum term and before and after the nearest growing season.

We will also develop survey instruments to measure changes in participants’ attitudes towards the project and their work, then evaluate those findings to determine the benefit of our new farmer program and curriculum.

In the larger community, we will measure how many local food outlets are connected to the OGCFH; what increase (or decrease) in local residents have received food from the participants.

The food hub is designed to be an easily replicated system and model for similar work in other low-income urban communities. We will hold quarterly events at the homestead and co-working site to gauge user satisfaction and receive feedback, to strengthen a method for engaging low-income urban residents, wherever they may be, in food production and distribution. Additionally, we will visit producer sites on an ongoing basis to determine their satisfaction with their work and facility of the online food aggregator.

Baseline information on demographics will be gathered and included with outcome based reporting.

We will evaluate the success of our workshops and trainings using a participant evaluation survey crafted by selected program participants and graduate students from USC Sol Price School of Public Policy.

What two lessons have informed your solution or project?

In the past four years, we have learned that: People know what good food is (don’t need to be told what it is) and want to participate in healthy food options; and young people are the key to creating and utilizing sustainable, innovative agriculture initiatives.

In our work, residents often perceived “local” as a privileged concept. The lament was that acting local seemed to be encouraged from the top down, and they wondered how it was relevant to their lives. We understood the position, but were often struck by the irony: acting local was once the province of the poor and less fortunate, out of necessity. Low-income people depended on one another – growing food, raising animals, sharing skills, watching over kids — and communities were sustained on that fact. We realized we were considering the wrong concept. Instead of framing local as a new, sometimes elite activity, we learned to frame it as a social equity movement to eat locally grown food. Our clients overwhelmingly responded to that. They want good choices for their children. They want the same food options that more affluent people have. But the idea of local seemed like a bias towards complexity over simplicity, expensive over cheap. Provided an opportunity to do it themselves, residents increase their own intake and share it.

The average age of the American farmer is 57 years-old. Young people are interested in gardening, but not the way their parents and grandparents were. Looking at their gardening habits, one finds innovative use of land. Gardens and farming are done less on large rural farms and more in urban settings. The garden is another way that they can express their social responsibility, philanthropy and lifestyle choices. We realized we must tap into this different way of farming and bring those ideals into low-income communities. First, we acknowledged that this group is tech savvy, with an expectation of immediate results. But a garden is not fast. That means satisfaction might be drawn from using technology to advance the process – how to grow what, and how much, where; how am I contributing to sustainability; how is the community benefiting; what connections can be made between communities and between myself and communities; what good can be done with the garden harvest; etc. etc. With networks in place, these future farmers are in position to create and sustain far-reaching and diverse connections in our urban gardens.

Explain how implementing your project within the next twelve months is an achievable goal.

In the grant budget period, we will complete establishment of the homestead and food business incubator and provide increased access to fresh food in food insecure areas surrounding our site, with the objectives of: decreasing numbers of food-insecure families; developing 19 small-scale grower businesses practicing innovative and sustainable farm techniques; and starting an online food hub and aggregator to allow increased access to fresh food. Our goals are achievable because we have established a work timeline that allows flexibility and expanded time to carry out activities.

Decrease numbers of food insecure families Months 7 – 12. Achieve minimum of 200 unique sales per month Months 7 – 12. Provide fresh produce, weekly, to 100 local households Months 5 – 12. Provide 100,000 pounds of fresh, locally grown produce to residents in South Los Angeles

Develop 19 small-scale growers practicing innovative and sustainable techniques Months 1 – 2. Enroll fifteen additional low-income food entrepreneurs in the business incubator, along with two farmers markets and one restaurant Months 1 - 4. Complete the upgrade of and open our community kitchen for preparation of food grown at homestead and other producing sites. Months 3 – 5. Achieve certification of 19 new local food businesses, conduct business development workshops and business plan writing, plan growing and harvest schedules to increase local food businesses in distressed community, and introduce novel automation and farm technologies
Months 3 – 12. Support and develop approximately 15 small businesses and 50 jobs in the community, for their first 1 to 3 years of farming Months 9 – 12. Acquire and grow on 67,000 square feet of growing space for 20 food growers in year two.

Start online food hub and aggregator to increase access to fresh food Months 2 – 4. Provide a fully functional, innovative food hub and website that is model via open source tools for others to use and share, that is a source of healthy, organic and sustainable food. Months 5 – 7. Enroll 15 additional producers, two restaurants, one farmers market and two healthy corner stores in online food hub Months 8 – 10. Identify and increase direct markets, diversify products. Month 10. Activate full-site phone application of “OG Eats” online food aggregator

Please list at least two major barriers/challenges you anticipate. What is your strategy for ensuring a successful implementation?

Our key challenges are: ongoing capacity development and long-term viability of the food hub; and few models to draw from for the type of project we are developing.

The food hub and online aggregator will be sustainable via a small fee collected for sales and producer use. However, the co-working homestead, if it is to help low-income people, cannot rely heavily on dues from them. As such we will continue to rely on grants and external support, which requires increased collaboration and partnerships with organizations that support food production.

Food entrepreneurs are faced with multiple regulatory hurdles and high fees. Additionally, few are aware of the process for obtaining certification to participate in the food sales and distribution. Still, due to lack of education about business development, these residents are not prepared to begin the businesses that would allow them to enter and participate in the healthy food system. The current informal network of food sales among local, urban growers can be formalized simply by introducing business protocols and instituting regulations compliance.

There is no similar food hub, online or otherwise, specifically designed for residents in South LA. Models lean towards larger, less dense and often rural areas. There are few opportunities for local, low-income food entrepreneurs to sell the food that they produce. Yet, our site is largely surrounded by the various food deserts existing in the area. The USDA defines a food desert as a low-income census tract area where 33% of residents live over a mile from a grocery store; and its Food Access Research Atlas identifies our site as significantly Low-Income/Low-Access. Further, the density of convenience stores is double the number found in the rest of Los Angeles.

In response to lack of healthy food alternatives in Los Angeles, the City established The Good Food Office, through which working groups developed a set of priorities including development of a Food Hub enterprise. In 2012, the Office committed to operationalizing a cooperative purchasing mechanism for neighborhood markets that connects them to low-cost, locally-produced food. But there is no food hub in place at this time. Since generation of the report, a handful of corner markets have been converted to healthy markets offering fresh produce and the City’s Urban Agriculture Policy working group has developed a policy brief. We are working to implement such a cooperative purchasing mechanism.

What resources does your project need?

  • Money (financial capital)
  • Volunteers/staff (human capital)
  • Publicity/awareness (social capital)
  • Infrastructure (building/space/vehicles, etc.)