BY JAMES RAINEY, LA TIMES STAFF WRITER
If tamping down Earth-warming greenhouse gases were as simple as separating coffee grounds, egg shells, leftover lasagna and other kitchen scraps from other waste, Californians certainly would be up to the task. Wouldn’t they?
That’s the assumption behind a groundbreaking state law that took effect at the start of 2022: that the state’s residents and businesses can redirect at least three-fourths of the organic waste once destined for landfills, where it would decompose into methane, a super-potent gas that traps up to 84 times as much heat as carbon dioxide.
But after 18 months under the new law, California has made uneven progress toward that goal.
There’s a farm in Los Angeles, tucked between a faded American Legion Post and a Baptist church in Panorama City. Behind the concrete columns and wooden fence lie Cottonwood Urban Farm, a composting site and small orchard of mulberry, fig, pomegranate and stone fruit trees — peach, plum, apricot, pluot and nectarines. The May gray of Los Angeles’ spring is just starting to burn off as I find Elliott Kuhn, standing on a folding chair, picking Pakistani mulberries and carefully packing them into small cardboard containers for sale later.
He invites me to pick the sweet, long berries as I ask him about his farm’s designation as an Urban Agriculture Incentive Zone. Kuhn was a recipient of a 2013 property tax incentive intended to support urban farmers and address food insecurity by creating farms in neighborhoods close to residents who need wholesome food most.
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Teresa Leong had known for years that her kitchen scraps weren’t really trash. But at first, she wasn’t sure what to do with them.
Sometimes she’d just toss a bell pepper into the bushes, figuring it would decompose and feed the greenery. But that wasn’t a comprehensive solution. Then she tried washing unused veggies down the drain, knowing they’d be converted to reusable gas at the city’s sewage treatment plant. But massive downloads of greens, even ground up in a blender, clogged the drain in her Studio City apartment. Click Here to read the full article.
This past Saturday May 9th, 2016, we had our very first neighborhood food exchange and garden work day. Together with our Councilwoman Nury Martinez of District 6, her amazing staff, Pacoima Beautiful, Jessika Mitchell of TreePeople, our neighborhood Juice Shop, It's Juice Time, and a core group of dedicated farm volunteers: Maddy O'Neil, Sara Jacobs, Bea Elliott, and Lila Burgos (to name a few)--we hosted over 30 community members , planted 40 tomato plants, eight avocado trees, and exchanged nearly 30 lbs. of locally grown food.
It was amazing to see the vision of this day come together; to see it as more than just a facebook post or flyer tucked into a mailbox, because it was the unexpected elements which truly gave the magic to the day. We had community members from 6 months old on up to 80+ years, and they were all digging into the soil, engaging with the mulch, conversing with neighbors, and exchanging laughs and food freely--without judgement or a fear of the unknown. To me that was the most salient part of this first opening to the public: Food, its production and consumption and all the energy that goes into it from seed to table, is truly the simplest platform from which we can all learn to relate to one another. It was so inspiring to see the range in ages, cultures, languages, and so on. Perhaps there are no strangers in the garden, only friends waiting to be discovered.
The San Fernando Valley in all of its vastness has changed much over the centuries. A once giant flood basin for the mountains which encircle it, it has settled into the concrete grid which now defines so much of Los Angeles. However, beneath that hardscape, the cracked curbs, and endless strip malls sits the soil which has always made this place so great--which has always been home to the roots of all the plants and communities which came before us. I trust that as the soil on this farm continues to be cared for and cultivated, so to shall be the friendships and community which continue to spread ever outward.
Stay tuned for next month's food exchange!
Cottonwood Urban Farm