SEVEN OF LA’S FINEST URBAN FARMERS

SEVEN OF LA’S FINEST URBAN FARMERS

os Angeles is an ideal city for urban agriculture. Here you’ll find lots of people, space, and sunshine. With four million people, LA is the second most concentrated city in the country. Spread across 469 square miles LA is a vast city with ample vacant lots and untouched areas for potential use. And due to its Mediterranean climate, LA stays at a consistent 70 degrees Fahrenheit with mild seasons and plentiful sunshine, making it a great place to grow. In addition to these draws, LA has seen increasing government support for urban agriculture. Due to strong community interest, municipal policies were updated recently to facilitate the development of urban agriculture projects throughout the city.

The urban agriculture community in LA is robust, and continues to grow stronger. This article highlights  seven urban farmers who are leading the way to a healthier, happier, more sustainable city.

David Rosenstein: Champion Job Creator  David Rosenstein is the Executive Director of Our Foods, a non-profit social enterprise dedicated to urban agriculture education, training, and jobs. He built the first aquaponic farm in Los Angeles County in 2012 and developed the Art & Science of Aquaponics, an educational platform for school universities and the general public.  Rosenstein is a man pure of heart. He has a deep rooted dedication to creating green collar jobs. Rosenstein helped create a re-entry program called Our Foods Urban Ag Training Program in Los Angeles & San Francisco that trains prisoners to learn to be growers, then placing them in jobs upon reentry into society. As a thought leader in the urban agriculture space, Rosenstein served as a selected judge for the LA Agritecture Workshop.

David Rosenstein: Champion Job Creator 

David Rosenstein is the Executive Director of Our Foods, a non-profit social enterprise dedicated to urban agriculture education, training, and jobs. He built the first aquaponic farm in Los Angeles County in 2012 and developed the Art & Science of Aquaponics, an educational platform for school universities and the general public. 

Rosenstein is a man pure of heart. He has a deep rooted dedication to creating green collar jobs. Rosenstein helped create a re-entry program called Our Foods Urban Ag Training Program in Los Angeles & San Francisco that trains prisoners to learn to be growers, then placing them in jobs upon reentry into society. As a thought leader in the urban agriculture space, Rosenstein served as a selected judge for the LA Agritecture Workshop.

Kathleen Blakistone: The Community Hero Kathleen Blakistone is the Co-creator of Moonwater Farm, an urban microfarm in Compton, CA that provides youth and residents of South Los Angeles access to organic farming and livestock. Their aim is to re-establish attention on homesteading and to train community members for potential employment in the LA food industry. Blakistone originally purchased the property to start an aquaponic greenhouse, but changed directions when she saw how special a space it was for urban youth. They now provide school visits, summer camps, and workshops. We could try and summarize further what makes Kathleen so unique, but instead we’ll share some footage of our interview with Kathleen during the LA Agritecture Workshop earlier this year. Enjoy!

Kathleen Blakistone: The Community Hero

Kathleen Blakistone is the Co-creator of Moonwater Farm, an urban microfarm in Compton, CA that provides youth and residents of South Los Angeles access to organic farming and livestock. Their aim is to re-establish attention on homesteading and to train community members for potential employment in the LA food industry. Blakistone originally purchased the property to start an aquaponic greenhouse, but changed directions when she saw how special a space it was for urban youth. They now provide school visits, summer camps, and workshops.

We could try and summarize further what makes Kathleen so unique, but instead we’ll share some footage of our interview with Kathleen during the LA Agritecture Workshop earlier this year. Enjoy!

Ben Hirshfield: Permaculture Expert Ben Hirshfield is the Garden Director for Community Healing Gardens, a Venice-based nonprofit. Community Healing Gardens grows food and provides urban garden education in Los Angeles for those in need, as well as for Edwin Markham Middle School in Watts. At Markham, what started out as a field of weeds, rusty scrap metal, and other rubbish is now a flourishing garden. Anyone who volunteers around the garden at Edwin Markham comes to know Hirschfield as the permaculture expert. From building swales to compost health, to terracing with recycled materials, Famer Ben is among the top permaculture professionals in LA. Currently, in addition to Ben’s work with CHG, he also has a private landscaping business, 3R Garden Design. Farmer Ben’s work proves that it is possible to turn a city liability into a community asset. *Fun fact: long before Farmer Ben or David Rosenstein were urban farmers, they were roommates! ** Bonus Content: Our interview with Farmer Ben during the Los Angeles Agritecture Design Workshop

Ben Hirshfield: Permaculture Expert

Ben Hirshfield is the Garden Director for Community Healing Gardens, a Venice-based nonprofit. Community Healing Gardens grows food and provides urban garden education in Los Angeles for those in need, as well as for Edwin Markham Middle School in Watts. At Markham, what started out as a field of weeds, rusty scrap metal, and other rubbish is now a flourishing garden.

Anyone who volunteers around the garden at Edwin Markham comes to know Hirschfield as the permaculture expert. From building swales to compost health, to terracing with recycled materials, Famer Ben is among the top permaculture professionals in LA. Currently, in addition to Ben’s work with CHG, he also has a private landscaping business, 3R Garden Design. Farmer Ben’s work proves that it is possible to turn a city liability into a community asset.

*Fun fact: long before Farmer Ben or David Rosenstein were urban farmers, they were roommates!

** Bonus Content: Our interview with Farmer Ben during the Los Angeles Agritecture Design Workshop

Matt Vail: Ag Tech Wiz  Matt Vail is the Co-Founder and COO of Local Roots Farms, a company that designs, builds, and operates indoor farming solutions. Local Roots has shown great promise, having been selected as a portfolio company of the prestigious Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator. Vail is one of the most qualified tech people you’ll be lucky to meet in the controlled environment agriculture industry (CEA).  He has four plus years of real growing experience, putting him years ahead of others. Vail and his team were also was able to pull off the feat of getting one of their 40ft shipping container farms to South by Southwest. With traveling farms and hard nosed experience, it isn’t hard to see why Vail is considered a leading CEA expert in the Los Angeles County. 

Matt Vail: Ag Tech Wiz 

Matt Vail is the Co-Founder and COO of Local Roots Farms, a company that designs, builds, and operates indoor farming solutions. Local Roots has shown great promise, having been selected as a portfolio company of the prestigious Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator.

Vail is one of the most qualified tech people you’ll be lucky to meet in the controlled environment agriculture industry (CEA).  He has four plus years of real growing experience, putting him years ahead of others. Vail and his team were also was able to pull off the feat of getting one of their 40ft shipping container farms to South by Southwest. With traveling farms and hard nosed experience, it isn’t hard to see why Vail is considered a leading CEA expert in the Los Angeles County. 

Nate Looney, Westside Urban Gardens: The Aquaponics Expert Nate Looney is the founder of Westside Urban Gardens, a veteran owned and operated micro green farm. He originally got the idea for West Urban Gardens when he was a junior studying business at the American Jewish University. Soon after graduating from AJU, Looney started growing microgreens, eventually completing a microgreens, eventually completing a three month internship at Ouroboros Aquaponics Farms. This began the cultivation of the deep seeded knowledge in aquaponics he shares today. Drawing inspiration from his religious beliefs, Looney is known for his rooted commitment to the social mission of urban agriculture.

Nate Looney, Westside Urban Gardens: The Aquaponics Expert

Nate Looney is the founder of Westside Urban Gardens, a veteran owned and operated micro green farm. He originally got the idea for West Urban Gardens when he was a junior studying business at the American Jewish University.

Soon after graduating from AJU, Looney started growing microgreens, eventually completing a microgreens, eventually completing a three month internship at Ouroboros Aquaponics Farms. This began the cultivation of the deep seeded knowledge in aquaponics he shares today. Drawing inspiration from his religious beliefs, Looney is known for his rooted commitment to the social mission of urban agriculture.

Bonus Grower: Colin Archipley Colin Archipley would easily make the list if he was located in LA proper, but since most of Colin’s work is in San Diego or Pomona, we have included him as a bonus! Colin is the co-founder of Archi’s Acres, a hydroponic organic farm that trains veterans how to grow and start their own agrobusiness. Archipley was a member of the Marine Corps and served in Iraq. Upon returning to California he recognized the difficulty of transitioning to everyday life. Inspired to do something that would help his fellow veterans succeed, he and his wife Karen designed full curriculum education courses meant to help veterans create their own businesses in controlled environment agriculture.

Bonus Grower: Colin Archipley

Colin Archipley would easily make the list if he was located in LA proper, but since most of Colin’s work is in San Diego or Pomona, we have included him as a bonus! Colin is the co-founder of Archi’s Acres, a hydroponic organic farm that trains veterans how to grow and start their own agrobusiness.

Archipley was a member of the Marine Corps and served in Iraq. Upon returning to California he recognized the difficulty of transitioning to everyday life. Inspired to do something that would help his fellow veterans succeed, he and his wife Karen designed full curriculum education courses meant to help veterans create their own businesses in controlled environment agriculture.

Niels Thorlaksson: Distributed Agriculture Entrepreneur Niels Thorlaksson is a partner of LA Urban Farms, a full service urban produce grower currently utilizing Tower Garden aeroponic technology. They’ve installed over 600 towers for businesses, universities, restaurants, and communities across Southern California. Thorlaksson has created a unique model in this industry by distributing his nursery business across the region, and by placing his farms right at the point of consumption. Some of his clients include universities such as UCLA, USC, and CalTech, large chains such as Tender Greens and Ocean Properties hotel, and Thorlaksson is even known to grow for a few celebrities; though he’ll never say who. All of this started out by growing Tower Gardens in his backyard in Santa Barbara.  

Niels Thorlaksson: Distributed Agriculture Entrepreneur

Niels Thorlaksson is a partner of LA Urban Farms, a full service urban produce grower currently utilizing Tower Garden aeroponic technology. They’ve installed over 600 towers for businesses, universities, restaurants, and communities across Southern California.

Thorlaksson has created a unique model in this industry by distributing his nursery business across the region, and by placing his farms right at the point of consumption. Some of his clients include universities such as UCLA, USC, and CalTech, large chains such as Tender Greens and Ocean Properties hotel, and Thorlaksson is even known to grow for a few celebrities; though he’ll never say who. All of this started out by growing Tower Gardens in his backyard in Santa Barbara.  

Ron Finley: Food Policy Warrior Ron Finley is the Director and Head Trouble Maker at The Ron Finley Project, a nonprofit that is dedicated to eradicating food deserts and changing food culture in disadvantaged neighborhoods. Finley is best known for his inspirational TED Talk, which has over 3,000,000 views to date. Finley discusses how food is both the problem and solution in food desert areas such as his neighborhood in South Central LA, where the drive thrus are killing more people than the drive bys. Ron’s vision and mission is to activate each individual to revitalize a collective consciousness that leads to an empowered, self reliant community. Finley is known as the “Gangsta Gardener,” and he is flippin the script on what it means to be a gangsta. Growing your own food is gangsta, being self sustainable is gangsta. Ultimately, Finley wants people to know they have the capacity to transform and design their own lives.

Ron Finley: Food Policy Warrior

Ron Finley is the Director and Head Trouble Maker at The Ron Finley Project, a nonprofit that is dedicated to eradicating food deserts and changing food culture in disadvantaged neighborhoods. Finley is best known for his inspirational TED Talk, which has over 3,000,000 views to date. Finley discusses how food is both the problem and solution in food desert areas such as his neighborhood in South Central LA, where the drive thrus are killing more people than the drive bys.

Ron’s vision and mission is to activate each individual to revitalize a collective consciousness that leads to an empowered, self reliant community. Finley is known as the “Gangsta Gardener,” and he is flippin the script on what it means to be a gangsta. Growing your own food is gangsta, being self sustainable is gangsta. Ultimately, Finley wants people to know they have the capacity to transform and design their own lives.

Conclusion

These folks are the backbone of the urban agriculture movement in Los Angeles. Their stories provide a good benchmark on the variety of ways that everyone can participate in the world of locally and sustainably grown food. To learn more, or to meet these and other urban farmers, please join Andrew Blume on September 13 for the LA Clean Tech Incubator (LACI) Food & Ag Cluster Meeting. This event will provide you the chance to be inspired and have your questions answered. We hope to see you there.

Initial Image Credit: Perkins+Will

Authored by: Sierra Clark & Andrew Blume

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