Los Angeles' Green Thumb

Los Angeles' Green Thumb

It has a name that is reminiscent of a certain friendly ghost, and nobody would mistake it for farmland, but the zone bounded by the CASP, or Cornfield Arroyo Seco Specific Plan, could be the future of Los Angeles’ efforts to adopt urban farming.

A team led by Perkins+Will and the LA River Corp just released the results of its Urban Agriculture Study for the area, which borders the LA River and gritty neighborhoods such as Chinatown, Cypress Park, Lincoln Heights, and Glassell Park. Funded by State Proposition 84, the study zeroes in on agriculture projects that can both attract green developers and serve local needs. Pilot projects are set to start this spring, and some related infrastructure has already begun. Other members of the team include community outreach partner GDML, urban agriculture expert Jesse Dubois, and financing consultants PFAL.

The group looked at the area because it already had some food processing and training centers (like LA prep, which rents commercial kitchens and production space to local food makers), because it bordered the river, and, above all, because, its zoning allows for urban agriculture virtually throughout, a rarity in any city.

“How can you re-stitch the urban fabric and make it stronger?” asked Perkins+Will associate principal Leigh Christy, one of the plan’s leaders. “We are ridiculously excited about it. There is so much potential.”

The project’s study area was divided into five geographic zones, roughly in a north-south configuration. The team inventoried each area through mapping and resident surveys.

Because the neighborhood has few greenfields, and could potentially have ground and air contamination, the plan suggests largely “controlled agriculture,” with internally regulated techniques like hydroponics, aquaponics, and greenhouses.

The study also suggests developing alternative financing methods, and in order to begin implementation, the team is now talking to non-profit partners like EnrichLA, which builds gardens in green spaces in local schools; Goodwill, which has a large training center in the area; Homeboy Industries, which runs a training and education program for at-risk youth; and arts group Metabolic Studio. The team is also meeting with local schools, food processing centers (like LA Prep), and government entities such as the Housing Authority of Los Angeles.

“The bond only paid for us to suggest what to do. Now we have to figure out how,” said LA River Corp real estate director Jennifer Samson.

The project most likely to take off first, said Samson, is a public/private demonstration farm on land owned by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, with money coming from corporate partners. Schools could bring students to learn about agriculture, locals could harvest the yield, and community groups could program events there. The project could then attract funding for larger, more permanent projects within the next 18 to 24 months.

The project’s powerful advisory board, which includes local officials, business owners, and planners, will be instrumental in making these connections.

When implemented, said Christy, the plan would not just diversify the area’s economy and provide fresh local produce, but it would improve air and water quality, add local infrastructure, reduce the carbon footprint, and promote public health.

“It’s allowed us to look at this land in a totally different way,” said Samson.