2017 Semifinalist
County of Los Angeles, CA
January 1, 2017

The Growing Experience (TGE) is operated by the Housing Authority of the County of Los Angeles, within the Carmelitos Public Housing Community. Carmelitos is home to 700 households totaling approximately 2,000 individuals; an additional 80,000 reside in adjacent North Long Beach, the majority of whom are low-income. TGE occupies land that was formerly a dumping ground with overgrown weeds and debris. The generally unkempt appearance contributed to overall blight of the community. In 2009, TGE started to transform the neglected land into a seven-acre urban farm, which coincided with the economic downturn that constrained Los Angeles County’s budget and created a sobering new economic reality for many. The neighborhood in and around Carmelitos was a food desert lacking grocery stores offering healthful food options. Affordable access to fresh produce was not available, resulting in many of the community’s residents experiencing health problems relating to diabetes and obesity. Additionally, the at-risk population of youth and young adults in the community, aged 16–24, had limited options to develop marketable skills and seek gainful employment. In 2010, TGE formed the city of Long Beach’s first truly local Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) program, in which residents sign up for a weekly share of the farm’s harvest. TGE also began offering a produce stand at Carmelitos’ senior complex. For the first time in the community, affordable access to healthful food options became a reality. Concurrently, a youth/young adult skills training program was developed, focusing on sustainable urban agriculture, providing technical and basic life skills. Along with the CSA program, farm stand, and skills training, TGE engaged the community through programs focusing on healthy lifestyles and environmental stewardship. Activities include educational tours for schools, public events such as Earth Day, internships, workshops, nutrition education, and volunteerism. In 2014, as demand grew for TGE’s high quality produce beyond Carmelitos and North Long Beach, the urban farm implemented an Aquaponics and Vertical Towers Growing System to increase its growing capacity to provide produce for more individuals. This created training opportunities in the science of aquaponics, further engaging the targeted demographic group of underserved youth/young adults, to pursue meaningful employment. Since 2015, TGE has implemented new initiatives to bolster the site as an environmental resource center, including a composting program to divert restaurant food waste from landfills turning it into rich soil amendment, public demonstration drought-tolerant garden utilizing edible, herbal, and medical plants, and planning of a food hub to aggregate locally produced agricultural products.