Out On the Farm: Adventures in Long Beach

It is a no-brainer that people eat what is most available and accessible to them. The existence of food deserts—urban areas with little or no access to grocery stores that offer fresh and affordable foods is a negative effector of healthy eating habits for the local populace.  Urban agriculture, the creation of local urban farms and CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) programs have gone a long way to address the lack of healthy, affordable food in many low-income communities.

The Urban Agriculture research team is studying an urban farm called “The Growing Experience” located at the Carmelitos housing project in Long Beach. The farm seasonally grows fruits and vegetables to provide to local residents through weekly farmers markets and participatory CSA boxes. Our goal is to quantify the benefits of this particular urban farm and recommend ways for the it to improve on its original mission of providing low-cost, locally grown food to local residents in the development and the surrounding area. We are quantifying the benefits of the farm by doing things like calculating the potential rainfall captured, carbon and pollution sequestered, money saved by buyers who eat this locally grown food, and asking people for their feedback on the farm’s operation. Additionally, we are using surveys to find out more about the local population and are collecting information on demographics, fruit and vegetable shopping and eating habits and household food security. This will allow us to make recommendations for the farm based on data and responses from locals, hopefully leading to increased usage and participation and an improvement in eating habits.

As a group we have definitely had some interesting moments that have led to a somewhat unorthodox project. From going to multiple grocery stores in the Long Beach area to weigh and price fruits/vegetables on Saturdays, to mapping trees for pollution and carbon sequestration and interviewing residents on their couches in the housing development, our group has definitely gotten engaged in the field. Some of the challenges we have faced were first and foremost the difficulty with doing fieldwork in an area over thirty miles away from UCLA—many hours were spent on the 405 in traffic lamenting the distance. Talking to residents and users of the farm was also challenging in many aspects. Our group, many of whom had never conducted field interviews before quickly donned the anthropologist hat and set out surveying and interacting with the local users and residents, often to mixed results. Like true researchers we tried to never take a biting comment personally and often struggled to bridge the communication gap but we ended up having a challenging yet interesting time together.

This project and the time spent with each other have brought us closer together and have helped contribute to our memorable senior year. We would like to thank the staff of the Growing Experience for accommodating us so generously in our requests for access and information, our advisor Dr. Betsy Abrams for her invaluable contributions to our project design and all Growing Experience participants and Carmelitos residents for giving their time to talk to us.

—The Urban Agriculture Team

The Urban Agriculture group is comprised of the following seniors: Dominic Nguyen, Ben Tam, Jecca Canet, Thanh Nguyen, Jessica Ban, Heather Burdick, Samuel Ramos-Perlberg and our advisor Dr. Betsy Abrams.