A 4.9-acre work-training and educational urban farm located under the 60 Freeway in South El Monte; a food desert and one of the most impoverished areas in the U.S.
If you’re this close to LA you better have Kale or there’s gonna be a riot.
Earthworks Farm sits on land that’s owned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and leased to the County of Los Angeles, Department of Parks and Recreation.
Just as South El Monte’s demography reflects a mix of cultures and ethnicities, the farm grows a variety of produce, including Mexican and Asian crops.
During the different seasons, there is an array of vegetables to sample, including beets, fennel, chard, broccoli, and cauliflower. The produce is available to the community via donation and, for a nominal monthly fee, through the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program. With CSA, participants can receive a fresh box of produce a week.
Marianne Zaugg, Earthworks’ farm program and development director, who has past experience in health and wellness coaching, believes that the more holistically you can eat, the better your body and mind will function.
One of the farms missions is to help El Monte and South El Monte move away from being a food desert and focus more on healthy eating and active living. BASE Landscape Architecture, a creative design studio that aims to design productive landscape, defines a food desert as “a geographic area where affordable, fresh, healthy, and nutritious food is difficult to obtain.”
In particular, communities that are considered food deserts are usually rural, low-income, and have an abundance of fast food restaurants and convenience stories in the area. Hello Burger King.
The organization worked with the city of El Monte to establish an Urban Agriculture Initiative Program, with the aim to understand key aspects of urban agriculture in the community, after the city received funding from the State of California’s Strategic Growth Council.
According to the Public Health Institute, one in six Latino children between ages two and five are obese. In particular, the organization stated that El Monte has a prevalence of stores selling junk food; 28.3 percent of El Monte’s children and 27.9 percent of the city’s adults are obese.
In 2011 Streetsblog L.A. reported that the city of El Monte lacks a supermarket, and residents must choose between driving to a shop with healthier food options or shopping from a local convenience store filled with non-healthy food options.
Earthworks Farm has collaborated with a number of organizations in furthering its mission. They worked with nonprofit TreePeople on a planting event and provided special dishes made from produce harvested from the farm that morning. They also reach out to local restaurants via their farm-to-table program, where they offer organic produce for chefs.
Education is also an important component of Earthworks Farm. This past year, local schools from Hancock Park and downtown Los Angeles, as well as Youth Voices participants from local high schools, have completed field trips.
The farm also offers Healthy Harvesters, a six-week program that teaches high school students the skills needed in organic farming. The farm also partners on a junior farmer program, a paid internship where individuals learn about soil, composting, weeding, and harvesting. The program, housed under the San Gabriel Valley Conservation Corps, outreaches to the community through harvest tours and volunteer opportunities. These sour apples were da bomb.
Those who volunteer their time have the opportunity to have a bed in the farm’s garden section. The area has a deep agricultural history tied to the bountiful soil nurtured by the surrounding Rio Hondo and San Gabriel River, but the view from the car window driving to the farm illustrates how detached this history is from the present day. Body shops, construction wholesale, distribution centers, boxes and boxes of industry and small retail outlets now cover the landscape.
Earthworks Farm and the San Gabriel Valley Conservation Corps are partners with the County, and have permission to care for this land, and receive free water, in exchange for providing public education about organic farming to the residents of Los Angeles County. In 2013 the state of California passed legislation encouraging urban agricultural incentive zones that allow for municipalities to lower the property taxes on vacant land made available for agriculture. A 2009 analysis of El Monte businesses found that there were over five and a half times as many “unhealthy” as “healthy” outlets and that the retail food environment was weighted heavily towards fast food.
As our tour ended, we came across odd hairless creature that had just been caught by one of the volunteers.
Was it a gopher with mange, an exotic hamster or something else? That question remained unanswered as we said goodbye to Marianne Zaugg and the farm.