Improving the market for good food in the Los Angeles region goes hand-in-hand with local economic development and the creation of good jobs. Just as the availability of good food can enhance the health of a neighborhood, a vibrant local economy and gainful employment can do much to foster a thriving community. Economic development projects range in size and scope. Attracting full-scale grocery stores to underserved neighborhoods, coupled with local hiring, can provide desperately needed jobs in communities, while increasing access to healthy foods. Efforts are being made to attract more good food businesses into underserved parts of the city. Other initiatives are smaller scale, but community based and rooted in neighborhood assets. Various organizations have made a point of incorporating food advocacy into projects based on community needs. Their activities range from neighborhood food access and transportation projects, to development of local food business incubators, to hosting nutrition and cooking education. Some are incorporating food gardens, community-supported agriculture (CSAs), farmers markets, or community kitchens into affordable housing developments.
Improvements to food distribution and infrastructure systems in Los Angeles would make it easier to sell and purchase good food. Facilities and business networks geared towards small- to mid-level sustainable farmers (such as regional food hubs) would allow local growers to take advantage of economies of scale and thus increase Angelenos’ access to local foods. Additionally, measures to ensure a more transparent food economy will give buyers and consumers an opportunity to make informed food choices. The institutions working to improve the distribution network for good food have taken on projects such as analyzing the agricultural supply and the market demand for local produce, encouraging existing food distribution businesses and food service providers to work with local farmers and to carry and serve more locally-grown products, and investigating possibilities for the creation of a Los Angeles Regional Food Hub
Changing institutional food procurement policies is important to increasing the overall demand for good food in the Los Angeles area. Over time, good food purchases—from both large and small institutions—can add up to significant investments in a sustainable regional food system. Moreover, when schools, hospitals, restaurants, businesses and government institutions commit to serving healthy, local food at their establishments, it supports the well-being of its students, patients, employees, and customers. A number of Good Food organizations work closely with institutions to incorporate local, sustainable produce into their menus and to rethink institutional food procurement policies. “Farm-to-school” initiatives have been especially successful. Additionally, some organizations, such as Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, have focused their efforts on updating government purchasing guidelines in order to support healthy, locally-grown products. A common task that ties all of these groups together is that they must work with their constituents to clarify the definition and criteria for “good food” and to develop model language for institutional bids and contracts. Having a common definition for good food will ensure a mutual understanding between farmers, distributors, retailers and consumers. Restaurants play a critical role in building a sustainable food system. Because of their independent nature, restaurants often have the flexibility in where they source and how they purchase foods. Restaurants are innovators and trailblazers in sourcing Good Food, especially in the City of Los Angeles. The leadership of many in the restaurant industry has increased consumer awareness of the detrimental impacts of our current industrial food system and fueled consumer demand for Good Food. As more restaurants join and build the market for Good Food, they help strengthen the regional food infrastructure, thus making it easier for other institutions to participate and support Good Food as well.
There are over 1.3 million food system jobs in Los Angeles regional foodshed, encompassing a 200 mile radius around the urban core. Most of those who work in food service and the larger food system do not have living wage jobs, nor do they have positions that come with benefits, job security or advancement opportunities. Competition in food industries to keep costs low makes it difficult for employers to do right by their employees without being undercut by other firms. Further, the size of most food service firms makes it nearly impossible for individual employers to improve the quality of the jobs at their establishments alone. An important priority for the Good Food movement is to find and promote opportunities for the creation of quality jobs along the entire food chain, starting with the agricultural fields and reaching all the way to retail establishments. Fair wages, decent working conditions, healthcare benefits and job security for all workers will help to ensure that the good food on your table did not come at the expense of others’ welfare.
The 128 farmers markets in Los Angeles County offer a host of benefits for community members and the many farmers who participate. First and foremost, a well-run farmers market gives the farmer an opportunity to make more profit than he would otherwise, and helps guarantee that the consumer will get fresher, locally-grown food. Additionally, farmers markets foster a direct connection between individual farmers, consumers and seasonal agriculture. In underserved communities that lack well-stocked supermarkets, weekly farmers markets can be a welcome opportunity to purchase fresh, affordable produce. A handful of organizations play a key role in organizing, managing, and administering most of the county’s farmers markets. These organizations may also engage in or support other sustainable food system efforts or economic development projects, as well as neighborhood-serving programs, like nutritional education and cooking classes (such as SEE-LA, and the Farmer’s Kitchen). A number of organizations are also actively working on making farmers markets more accessible to people living in underserved communities. Their efforts include initiatives to increase the acceptance of government food assistance benefits, expanding veggie voucher programs which double the purchasing power of low-income residents, and engaging the community about these projects and encouraging residents to support their local farmers market. Currently, only 40 out of 128 farmers markets in L.A. County accept Electronic Benefit Transfer (or EBT).
Street food helps make Los Angeles a vibrant place and a great food city. It has the potential to play a vital role in our communities by providing access to good food—food that is healthy, sustainable, fair and affordable. Realizing the potential benefits of street food is challenging in Los Angeles, where vendors are currently unable to operate legally on sidewalks and food trucks encounter parking difficulties. As a result, many vendors are marginalized, and occupy a socioeconomically and legally precarious position. In turn, consumers in Los Angeles miss out on better access to good food and are denied the assurances of purchasing food from regulated businesses. Many of the city’s poorest communities have limited access to affordable, healthy food, and that within these same neighborhoods, street vendors with carts and trucks fill the void left by the absence of mainstream grocers within the community. The following organizations are interested in a variety of issues and approaches related to street vending, such as organizing street vendors, assessing the current regulatory and policy landscape governing mobile vending in Los Angeles, and developing recommendations for legalizing and regulating more forms of healthy mobile vending, including new pilot projects.