29 Jan

Food never fails to bring people—and community groups—together.

Instead of sirens coming from old Fire Station No. 12, now the District 9 field office for Long Beach Vice Mayor Rex Richardson, there were the enticing smells of squash curry, collard greens, and pumpkin soup as community members and groups gathered Nov. 18 for the District 9 Urban Agriculture Council’s first Harvest Dinner.

Woman displaying her produceOrganizations involved included the District 9 Victory Garden, Organic Harvest Gardens, Healing in Heels, Harvest Partners Long Beach of City Heart, Long Beach Fresh, Long Beach Organic, North Long Beach Community Garden, and Our Foods.

At long tables in a side area where fire trucks once parked, neighbors and community group members gathered to share nourishing organic food contributed by those in the Long Beach urban agriculture movement. Baskets of kale, collard greens, squash, lemons, parsley and persimmons were raffled off.

The seed of the idea came from a $1 million, three-year Kaiser Permanente initiative to increase healthy food offerings in the district.

“Since then, there’s been an explosion taking place,” said Richardson, including more fresh fruits and vegetables in local stores, establishment of the North Long Beach Victory Garden, farmers’ markets accepting EDT, crop swappers events, and a community garden at the Michelle Obama Neighborhood Library.

“It is bringing people together. It’s a catalyst for community empowerment,” he said.

Members of the Urban Agriculture CouncilLast May, Richardson asked city staff to explore the feasibility of implementing California’s Urban Agriculture Incentive Zone Program in Long Beach. This program gives tax breaks to property owners who let their vacant properties be used as community gardens or urban farms.

Using vacant lots for urban agriculture can not only increase residents’ access to healthy foods but also reduce emission from food transportation, educate residents on sustainable gardening practices, and prevent blight on vacant lots through illegal dumping. The program is now up and running through the city’s Sustainability Office.

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