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I By THYDA DUONG Long Beach Business Journal A n urban oasis is how Rickey Smith describes his companys project at the Big Arts Lab in Downtown Los Angeles where a deserted paint factory is being transformed into a food jungle. Smith Founder and Principal of Urban Green LLC a social entrepreneurship founded in 2007 to restore develop and promote green space while evolving food production in the United States recalls the emergence of plants and wildlife back in the urban environment. We started seeing biodiversity come to this very hard harsh metal concrete landscape Smith said of the site where roughly a ton of toxic materials was removed. Today the site is being repurposed as an interactive growing space to promote sustainable food processes. Smiths project part of the roughly 4.7-acre portfolio of urban farms and rooftop gardens that Urban Green operates throughout Greater Los Angeles County is just one example of the various forms of growing occurring in cities which are increasingly viewed as fertile grounds for not only growing local food but developing people communities and economies as well. Theres been a groundswell of interest in urban farming said Robert Puro co-founder of Seedstock a Los-Angeles based company founded in 2011 to foster sustainable and local food systems. Urban agriculture has been around for a long time but its really only started to take off within the last five to six years he added noting that a growing marketplace demand for locally sourced food has contributed to the rise of urban farms. In fact he said local food was a 5 billion market in 2008 and grew to an 11.7 billion market in 2014. Its a growth that parallels the rise of Farmscape an urban farming venture founded in 2009. Today the company operates two offices in Los Angeles and San Francisco and has installed more than 400 urban farms in residential corporate and school settings throughout California including a farm behind centerfield at ATT Park home of the San Francisco Giants and atop the Jonathan Club in Downtown Los Angeles. This is a way for people to know their farmer and to feel more connected to what they eat said Farmscape Principal Lara Hermanson noting that urban gardens are also an important way to enhance food security. I think theres a very likely chance that this trend is going to turn into a mainstay she said. As the weather becomes more intense in the state and our farm crops become more expensive this is going to be a viable option for homeowners. And it looks like the opportunities for growing closer to the urban core are bountiful. Right now only one to two percent of our food is sourced locally Puro said adding that empirical data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture indicates that every 1 million generated from local food sales creates 13 new jobs whereas imported food creates only three new jobs. Theres a real opportunity to grow businesses and take advantage of a marketplace that really is looking for more local food Puro said. Thats going to reduce the carbon footprint its going to benefit local communities its going to benefit the environment and most importantly its going to help grow the economy and create new jobs. Policymakers he added are now beginning to recognize the potential of urban farms. California Assembly Bill 551 the Urban Agriculture Incentive Zones Legislation for instance became effective in January 2014 and allows cities and counties to offer reduced property taxes to landowners who use vacant parcels exclusively for agriculture including for nonprofit community gardens or educational purposes. The City of Los Angeles meanwhile is seeking to increase the number of urban agriculture sites as outlined in its recently released Sustainable City pLAn. There were 493 urban agriculture sites in June 2013 and the pLAn seeks to grow this number by 25 percent by 2025 and by 50 percent by 2035. Strategies include providing access to land at city facilities including the L.A. Public Library for urban agriculture converting parkways and vacant lots for agriculture and gardening and expanding urban agriculture in the citys federally designated Promise Zone. The pLAn will also encourage urban farming through the citys program. And as concerns with the drought and climate change continue to impact California urban farming will continue to evolve Puro said noting that technology will continue to advance the industry. You have hydroponic farms that can produce 20 times the amount of produce on the same footprint as a field farm using 10 percent of the water that these large field farms are using Puro explained. You can place these hydroponic farms on top of buildings or on a vacant lot and you can distribute the food from there and sell it closer to the source. People are starting to close the loop on water usage in urban agriculture Smith added. As the drought continues people will start looking at urban agriculture as a way to deal with the climate change that were experiencing in a positive way. For Smith the physical environment isnt the only consideration in urban farm- ing.The impact on people and communities also drives his vision for these spaces. Theres really something transformative about working with land he said recalling the journey of a young gang member who came to work at Urban Green in 2009 and later transitioned into a healthier more productive lifestyle. We envision urban agriculture as a way to repurpose our cities Smith added. It softens the environment and also opens up and softens the people that come in contact with urban farms. I Urban Farming Takes Sustainable Living To New Heights 24 Rooftop Urban Farming at the Jonathan Club in Downtown Los Angeles provides fresh produce to diners. 2015_OlsonCompanyInTownLiving_PortAnniversary 8815 118 PM Page 24