Down Home In L.A.

Neighborhood farm shows potential and limits of small-scale agriculture in the city.

Published on: Jul 16, 2012

Wattles Farm, a 4.2-acre community garden just off Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles was the scene for a unique discussion in June about the future of urban farming. The U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance hosted the event, part of its Food Dialogues series. While other parts of the program focused on the connection between the entertainment industry and agriculture, the visit to Wattles Farm showed both the promise and the limits of this type of venture in providing food for urban consumers.

Wattles Farm is on a former avocado and fruit ranch in L.A., which was once a major agricultural producer, before being paved over with shopping malls, freeways and subdivisions. That urban sprawl has left many consumers completely disassociated from their food supply, according to policy experts on the panel, which also included conventional and organic farmers. Community gardens and the local food movement in general could be a way of giving the urban population a better understanding of the risks and challenges farmers face in battling weather and pests while trying to feed a world with 7 billion people.

DEBATING AGRICULTURE: A panel of experts met at the 4.2 acre Wattles farm in the heart of Hollywood to discuss food policy.
DEBATING AGRICULTURE: A panel of experts met at the 4.2 acre Wattles farm in the heart of Hollywood to discuss food policy.

Some 300 members pay $70 a month to farm 170 or so plots at Wattles Farm, part of an historic Hollywood estate that's now owned by the L.A. parks department. A wide variety of flowers and vegetables are grown on the farm, which also has places for members to sit and just soak in the soothing surroundings.

Other strategies for urban farming involve commercial-sized hydroponics, which can be housed almost anywhere in the city. Allowing gardens in median strips along the city's boulevards is another idea being floated, but bringing more food to urban consumers likely will mean drawing from traditional farms within a 200 mile radius. That includes many of California's richest fields, where a lot of the nation's food is already grown.

The video on this page offers you a look at the farm, and at the conversation held during the USFRA event. For on the Los Angeles/Hollywood USFRA Food Dialogues visit www.fooddialogues.com

NOTE: The video that accompanies this story has been updated.