Yardfarmers Save Los Angeles
Yardfarmers leverage unused back yards to create a quilt of small farms making fresh, local, organic food available to all.
Students building the garden at a high school in Los Angeles. We are working to teach them about nutrition and the value of plant based foods. Ultimately, we would like to train students (or anyone) who want to be entrepreneurs to become yardfarmers.
Lead Applicant Organization Name
Kindred Spirits Care Farm
Lead Applicant Organization Type
Small NGO (under 50 employees)
If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.
John R. Wooden High School, UCLA, Verdugo Hills High School, Pierce College
Website of Legally Registered Entity
How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?
Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?
Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?
United States of America
Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?
What country is your selected Place located in?
United States of America
Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.
I have lived and worked in this place for the last 30 years. This is the place where I have been working with at-risk youth of mostly Hispanic and African American descent for the last 6 years to teach them about nutrition, climate change, sustainability, health and how to grow organic foods for themselves and their families. Many studies have shown that access to fresh fruits and vegetables can dramatically improve health outcomes I love this place and I love these kids, and I know the microcosm of my school reflects the macrocosm of my place.
Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.
Los Angeles is a place of diversity on many levels. We have the Pacific Ocean on one side, mountains on another and desert on another. The climate is Mediterranean. The people are as diverse as any on the planet with the majority of ethnicities being Caucasian, Hispanic, and Asian. But people come to this place from all over the world bringing their foods and traditions with them. It is big and sprawling, with a population of close to 13 million people. It boasts a diverse economy but is known for Hollywood and all things related to movies, television, music and the arts.
When most people think of Los Angeles, they think of glamour, Beverly Hills, rich people and Hollywood, however homelessness is a major issue here. With close to 60,000 people living on the streets, Los Angeles is second only to New York in terms of the size of its homeless population. People can be seen sleeping on the streets in almost every neighborhood. These people have access to food banks, but nowhere to cook or store food, so they rely on packaged goods, dumpster diving, and donations of any food that can be consumed immediately.
And for every homeless person, there are 10 times that many people living on the edge. With property prices and rent too expensive for most, many people are living with multiple roommates, and multiple families live in one apartment, or share a “single family dwelling”. People are holding more than one job to get by, and don’t have the time to cook much less grow food.
The effect of fast food, highly processed food, and dumpster diving is an epidemic of chronic degenerative diseases including diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, obesity and cancer. This is a huge burden on our health care system that could be alleviated with proper nutrition.
Los Angeles is ideally suited to agriculture and can grow almost any type of crop. It’s a shame that so little of the land is used to feed the people, and that almost all of our food is shipped in.
What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?
Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.
Economics - Los Angeles is a crazy quilt of neighborhoods. There are rich neighborhoods right next to poor ones. Those who have money can get anything they want. Those who live in the poorer neighborhoods, the food swamps, spend most of their food dollars on fast food, or the super-preserved, shelf-stable stuff available at the local 7-Eleven.
Diets and Culture - Because fresh fruits and vegetables are not shelf stable, the convenience stores don’t carry them and fast food restaurants don’t serve them. Given the terrific climate of the area, people could grow lots of their food, but they don’t. Sometimes they just need education, but other times it’s a cultural issue. Many of the Hispanics (48% of population) and Asians (15% of population) came here to escape being “farmers”. They want their children to make money and buy food rather than grow it. Growing your own food is considered low class and children are taught to get a job, not grow food. Also, the Standard American Diet, high in meat and dairy products, is considered to be high status. It has become clear over the last couple of decades that this specific diet (high in meats and dairy products) is creating obesity and many chronic diseases, but most people are not aware of it. Studies are showing how second generation Hispanics and Asians are at a much higher risk of having a chronic disease that their ancestors
Environment – Climate change is going to force us all to adapt to different growing conditions, and we need to expect more pressure on water resources. Los Angeles already imports much of its water from other states, and we could see increased prices on water as temperatures climb. We need to address the causes of climate change and the effects of animal agriculture on our planet, on water resources and on health.
Technology – Technology has been used to help huge mono-crop farms efficiently produce large quantities of grains, but at what cost to the soil and the environment? Short term profits for the few are maximized at the expense of the long-term health of our planet and people.
Policy – Currently, industry profit seems to be the highest-ranking value considered by policy makers. Subsidies are given primarily to the largest companies while smaller farms collapse. As market demands change, some markets are artificially bolstered at taxpayer expense. The government buys enormous amounts of dairy products to protect the milk industry even though consumer demand is declining. Policies should reflect values and needs of the people and not just protect profits.
All these issues are interrelated. Policy affects economics which affects the environment. Culture affects diets which affect the environment. They are linked and intertwined and need to be considered as the very complex situation that it is.
Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.
Back in the 1980’s, giant mainframe computers were all the rage – the bigger, the better. Then along came the personal computer and changed everything. Seemingly overnight, individuals had the computing power that only really large mainframes had in the past. And then they linked these small computers into networks and their power, versatility and accessibility only increased. I see the same thing happening with respect to farms. The day of the giant mono-crop farm is about to end. Small farms can and should spring up everywhere and the small farmers will be able to use technology to determine what to grow, where and how to sell their products and become very efficient while producing food that is local, nutritious and good for the soil and the environment.
Specifically, with respect to Los Angeles, I see yardfarmers solving so many issues we face and will continue to face into 2050. Los Angeles has enormous numbers of unused back yards. If you look at Los Angeles with Google Earth, you will see that most back yards are barren. People don’t have the time, money or interest in working in their gardens. Enter the yard farmer. These people will turn these unused yards into mini-farms. The land owner will get a share of the produce as rent and the rest will be sold by the farmer to earn a living. Given the low barriers to entry for this career, many lower income people can work the land for profit. On any given morning in Los Angeles, landscape gardeners go to work mowing lawns and blowing leaves. What if they could be growing vegetables instead?
Along with the yardfarmers themselves, we need technology to link them not only to customers and food hubs, but also to soup kitchens and compost hubs to deal with vegetables that are ugly, aging or inedible. School kitchens are an incredibly under-utilized resource. On their off hours, they could be used to cook and/or preserve food that would otherwise go to waste. Composting whatever can’t be eaten will rebuild the soil rather than using chemicals to artificially induce plant growth at the expense of the microorganisms in the soil.
And finally, we need education. We need to change the perception that farming is a low status activity and we need to educate people about the benefits of a primarily plant-based diet. Plant based foods need a PR make-over so they are recognized as a high-status food. Again, technology and even policy can help with this. Policy changes will ensure school diets need are radically changed from the Standard American Diet to a primarily plant-based diet with no processed meats. The World Health Organization has classified processed meat as a Type 1 carcinogen along with cigarettes and alcohol, so these items should be taxed to induce their decline.
The new tax revenues imposed on meat and dairy products will pay for community kitchens and community gardens where anyone and everyone can participate in growing food.
High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.
With enough yardfarmers working enough yards, every community could have fresh, organic foods available at an affordable price. People would be healthier. Medical costs would go down. People would have more of a sense of community as they visit their local market to buy fresh foods, and work together to ensure that everyone has access to nutritious foods. Government would assist local growers, distributors and community kitchens rather than pandering to profits.
Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?
In 2050, when we have yardfarmers working the vacant yards, schools of all kinds are teaching proper nutrition to the students, kitchens are cooking meals and preserving excess, ugly or marginal produce, and the inedible stuff is being composted at compost hubs around the city, life will be better.
Diets - People will understand to consider nutritional value as a component of food choice in addition to taste, price, and convenience. More fresh, local and nutritious food will be available at a price people can afford and if they don’t have time to cook, because they are working 2 or more jobs, they can go to (or order from) the common kitchens and buy food prepared from local ingredients.
Also, the community gardens will help all who participate with improved mental and physical health. Homeless people can contribute time and be paid in either fresh foods or prepared foods in the community kitchens. Taxes from meat sales will help subsidize these kitchens so they can provide delicious, nutritious foods at a very reasonable price or even for a bit of barter from the gardens.
Economics – Because barriers to entry are low, and land does not have to be purchased, and risk of loss will be mitigated by technology indicating which products to grow and where to sell them, costs of production will be minimized and organic foods can be made more readily available to everyone. Corner vegetable stands can spring up to be even more local, reducing shipping costs to zero and customers who don’t have cars can get fresh foods easily. Food hubs can be established as well to offer the full assortment of local goods. Shopping malls are always trying to create the sense of community that local markets used to have. Lets just bring back the marketplace and the sense of community will create itself.
Also, because of low barriers to entry, more people can start businesses as yardfarmers. More jobs,
Environment – Because produce will be grown in discrete backyards using compost rather than chemicals and natural means to combat pests, there will be no need for toxic chemicals. The soil will be rebuilt yard by yard and better soil makes better, more nutritious produce. And compost is a natural carbon sink, it will help reduce carbon dioxide in the air. Because people will be eating primarily plant-based foods, the meat industry will no longer need to tear down natural forests to grow wheat and soy to feed cattle. Without the burden of the meat industry, water can be conserved.
Culture – On one level, we want to be sensitive to cultural differences, and technology will help people find the raw ingredients for their favorite dishes, but we also want everyone to adapt to use more plant-based foods. Being sensitive to cultural differences also means recognizing that most Hispanics and Asians do not digest lactose as adults (a normal condition after weaning called “lactose intolerance”) and not giving them the correct information on where to get nutrients such as calcium is definitely not being sensitive Many cultures also see meat as a high-status food. Going back in centuries it is clear the consumption of animal flesh in indigenous people of Mexico for example was very low and only after colonization it became a staple food.Same goes for dairy. We need to help everyone see plant-based foods as high-status foods that are able to decrease health disparities to some extent.
Technology – People will be using technology to determine what crops to grow in which yards, how and where to sell their produce and what price to charge. Customers can find the best places to buy the produce they need for their favorite dishes.
Policy – Meat, dairy and highly processed foods should be taxed as luxury items rather than subsidized with tax dollars. This should drive demand for more fresh, wholesome, environmentally friendly foods.
How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?