What Does Community-Based Food Really Look Like?

I’m willing to bet that you’ve never met a farm like The Growing Experience.

Jimmy Ng is the program manager for The Growing Experience Urban Farm in North Long Beach, California. Today, TGE is a staffed farm complete with community programs and exciting growth andoperated by Housing Authority of the County of Los Angeles. But The Growing Experience,like every farm, started with a passion for community-based food systems.The_Growing_Experience_Urban_Farm.jpg

Jimmy originally entered the agriculture industry with a degree for landscape architecture fromCal Poly Pomona. While Jimmy always had an interest in growing plants, his focus moved from design to production.
“…As I started working in landscape architecture I realized that I wanted something more fulfilling,” Jimmy says.
For Jimmy, growing food was the natural next step; it was a way to put his landscaping skills to use in a way that directly helpedpeople.
“I decided then that I wanted to design edible gardens… Then I took the leap and started doing urban farming full time.”
IMG_3863.jpgJimmy Ng, left, with TGE staff members.

Before TGE was built, the site wasn’t serving the community.

Before The Growing Experiencewas built, the site housed a wholesale nursery for mostly ornamental plants.
Things like palm trees and turf and other plants that really didn’t fit the needs of the residents that live here. It didn’t serve them. The plants just went away and they didn’t really have a connection to any of the people that lived here. We had this opportunity to grow food because a lot of the poeple were saying that there werGrowing_Experience_Logo_FINAL.pngent any major grocery stores in the area. There weren’t any farmers markets.”
Now, the Growing Experience functions as a non-profit farm, dedicated not onlyto helping people get better foodandbetter access to food, but to educating the community about food production.
We’re actually more of a community education farm. We do have a CSA and a farm stand, but those are not the main drivers of why we’re here; it’s really to educate the community around creating local food and building up the whole community around a local food system.”
The four-person team at TGE runs community projects, running programs with local schools, hosting farm dinners and fish fries, and keeping a CSA and farm stand. All this is to achieve their end goals, which are congruent with many of the Upstart Farmers’ values.

TGE is changing eating habits

The Growing Experience Urban Farm feeds about 35 families with their CSA, but as they transition towards a larger portion of vertical production, Jimmy suspects that The Growing Experience’s capacity will grow to triple that number.
Our urban farm is in an area of the city that is not technically a food desert, but offers very limited options for fresh, healthy produce. By providing healthy produce that is easily accessible and affordable, we are changing the eating habits of some residents in the community, and we hope that will spread over time.
We want to provide for a hundred families that live in low income housing and also have enough left over to provide for local restaurants that really support the mission of local food creation. Right now we just can’t do it because we don’t have the capacity. We’re providing for 30 to 40 families. We want to triple our size.”

Educational programs excite younger generations

The Growing Experience often gives farm tours and workshops to younger students. The addition of aquaponics to the farm has been drawing in more and more teens and older students, however Jimmy hopes that the number of interested teens will only increase as they expand and get funding for a curricula.
“We’re hoping to get a farm to school type grant to establish a formal curriculum and farm tour program with the whole school district where schools can come through and experience the farming aspect.”
“We have an after-school and summer program and that’s really for teens to young adults, anywhere from15 to 19 years old. And initially when they start they don’t want really anything to do with the programs, but once we start having them in the greenhouse testing the pH of the water, maintaining the towers, they get a lot more interested. Because for them itseems a lot more cool because there’s some aspect of science and technology in it.”

Ultimately, TGE changes foodaccess and distribution within the community.

“By growing food in the same community where it will be consumed, we also want to change the model of distribution.”
“We offer discounts on our CSA subscriptions for low-income residents of the Carmelitos housing community. We partner with local community groups to provide simple healthy cooking demos and tastings, which feature produce from the weeks harvest, along with nutritional information. We also have community events throughout the year, such as an Earth Day celebrationand Fall Harvest Festival, which invites residents to come to the farm to explore. Theyparticipate in workshops and demos about environmental sustainability, and supporting the creation of a local food system . Once a year for the past 6 years, we host a farm-to-table fundraiser in partnership with up to 12 local chefs. They cook a multi-course meal featuring some of the farmsharvest along with other locally sourced ingredients, and invite the community to share in the meal.”

So far, The Growing Experience Urban Farm has made tremendous progress in accomplishing their goals.

Between community and educational events, expansion, and their staff’s dedication, The Growing Experienceis well-armed to make the changes they’ve set as their goals.
Here at Bright Agrotech, we have a front seat view of progress in urban farming. It’s people like Jimmy Ng and his team that are powering that progress, and we’re proud and priviledged to be a part of it. We look forward to seeing The Growing Experience Urban Farm’s headway in the next year.
You can follow what The Growing Experience is doing via facebook or The Growing Experience’s site. Check out other news and details about the farm on UpstartFarmers.com, and see other farmers who are contributing to the rise of urban agriculture.