Written by Rachel Surls, Sustainable Food Systems Advisor at the UC Cooperative Extension – Los Angeles County and LAFPC Leadership Board Member. A shortened version of this article is featured on pages 22-23 in our 2013 Los Angeles Food System Snapshot, available here.
As recently as the early 1950’s, Los Angeles County was the number one agricultural county in the United States, its farms producing an abundance of fruit, vegetables, eggs, milk, honey and much more. Today, we tend to think of the county’s 10 million residents in strictly urban terms, but the most current available statistics from the USDA Census of Agriculture (2007) showed 1,734 farms in LA county. Though ornamental plants are now our biggest crop, more than $31 million in vegetable crops came from Los Angeles County farms in 2011, according to the County’s most recent Crop and Livestock Report. The bulk of the vegetables we produce are root crops, which include onions, carrots and potatoes. Most commercial farming takes place in the high desert around Lancaster and Palmdale, and is seldom seen by the bulk of the county’s population. A sprinkling of small urban farms is also cropping up around the county.
The amount of food produced in Los Angeles County is just a tiny portion of what’s produced in our regional foodshed, a 10-county region with some of the most productive farmland in the state, encompassing some 23,000 farms. Strawberries and lemons from Ventura County, lettuce and broccoli from Imperial, and milk and almonds from Kern are some of the highest value farm products in California, as well as in the 200-mile radius from Los Angeles’ urban core that constitutes our foodshed.
The food system as a whole—including production, handling, processing, distribution, marketing and food service—is an economic engine critical to the success of our regional economy. It generates well over half a million jobs in Los Angeles County, and 1.3 million jobs in the 10-county foodshed. Yet much of what is produced is shipped to far away markets, and does not reach the plates of area residents. Lack of affordable fresh fruits and vegetables is a fact of life in many Los Angeles County neighborhoods, despite their geographic proximity to agricultural bounty. Creating better connections between food producers and consumers is one way that the Los Angeles Food Policy Council and its network of partners can help to make the vision of “Good Food For All” a reality.