Lack of Urban Farms Threatens Survival of Farm-To-Table Restaurants in Long Beach

BY: GABRIELA MUNGARRO

Photo courtesy of The Growing Experience

Photo courtesy of The Growing Experience

“We can’t meet the demand because we have limited labor and lands,” said program director of The Growing Experience Jimmy Ng. The problem isn’t that people aren’t interested in opening urban farms, the problem is the lack of property, start up capital and staff, Ng expressed. Currently The Growing Experience is working with Primal Alchemy, Panxa Cocina and Rainbow Juices and James Republic.   

On its Hot 2016 Culinary Forecast list, the National Restaurant Association included 20 trends that are said to take the gastronomy world by storm, are trends that are becoming more and more visible in Long Beach. Among them were trends like: farm/estate branded items, locally grown produce, hyper-local sourcing and natural ingredients/minimally processed food.

In Long Beach many restaurant owners have begun to partake in this “clean eating” trend, but for most this is not so much of a trend rather the way food was meant to be eaten, as owner of Restauration Dana Robertson mentioned. As a newbie to the Long Beach food scene, Restauration has made a name for itself as one of these locations who is committed to serving food that is derived from local sources with natural ingredients. Seasonal food is Restauration’s prime concern as the menu is constantly changing to serve the freshest produce patrons can ask request.

However, although restaurants like Restauration—who wish to only serve hyper-local harvest—are purchasing their main vegetables and fruits from urban farms like The Growing Experience and Farm Lot 59 in Long Beach.

“I wish we had more,” said Robertson when asked about urban farms. Robertson also mentioned how she is forced to seek out other alternatives in Santa Monica and Northern Mexico, while still doing her best to remain local.

Photo courtesy of The Growing Experience

Photo courtesy of The Growing Experience

The Growing Experience works with four eateries, and Farm Lot 59 works with five, neither can take on new clients. Sasha Kanno, founder, farmer and president of Lot 59, said too few skilled workers in an urban environment that are “passionate about growing beautiful products.”

Though she doesn’t plan to expand the one-acre farm, she does plan to one-day sell to the public at farmers’ markets. Presently, Lot 59 supplies harvests to Michaels’s On Naples, Chianina, Taste, Restauration, Berlin and Petals and Pop.  

There are efforts in expanding the local, clean eating trends in Long beach, with the introduction of community gardens and urban farms, restaurants are forced to source produce from other cities like Ventura in order to keep to their fresh-food mottos. 

Serving fresh and local food might survive if people are willing to invest into urban farming and recognize the significance of doing so. Urban farming would help with curbing a foot print, emulating the local economy and an increase awareness of eating better stated Chef Paul Buchanan from Primal Alchemy. Although there is no argument with the vast benefits the city would receive with urban farms, there is, however, little to no incentives for property owners to lease or sell their lands to potential famers said Buchanan.

“The more urban, the more problem, its expensive,” said garden director, Joe Corso from Long Beach Organic.

Corso said California state bill AB-551 will sanction cities and counties to pass regulations to create Urban Agriculture Incentive Zones, where owners of vacant lands can receive reductions in property taxes if they allow the land to be used as commercial or non-commercial agricultural areas for at least 5 years. This would help address the gap between the city, land owners and farmers.

“Lack of real estate and the ability of these types of organizations to acquire real estate because of the costs,” said Business Ombudsman for the Economic Development Office, Seyed Jalali.

As of now there are no incentives for famers to develop urban farms in Long Beach. The Planning Department for the city is in the process of updating regulations for planning and zoning structures of these urban farms, since they are only permitted in certain districts and need immediate flexibility.  

Gabriela Mungarro

Food Editor at DIG MAG