Los Angeles' food deserts may soon be finding new oases. A new city ordinance will allow small farmers' markets to operate in residential areas, enabling backyard growers and small-time farmers to sell their crops in their own neighborhoods.
In parts of town like South L.A., where fresh food access is low, the new rule could offer residents a raft of new options. "It’s going to open up the playing field, literally and figuratively," says Tara Kolla, the owner of Silver Lake Farms, a small-scale farming operation that grows cut flowers and micro-greens.
Kolla had been operating out of her backyard for a number of years. She was shut down in 2009, because it was illegal for backyard gardeners to sell their crops. Kolla has since uprooted and started a new operation in another site, but the disruption cut deeply into her business. "That was years of work that went down the chute," Kolla says.
In 2010, the city changed the law, allowing backyard gardeners to sell crops like fruits, vegetables and flowers in many places, including local farmers' markets. This was a bittersweet success for Kolla, who had already switched up her own operation. And it was bittersweet for other small-scale farmers who might have considered selling their goods to a certified farmers' market if only their small crop size would have justified the expense of paying for a spot.
But with the city's new rule, these potential small-scale farmers can set up markets right in their own neighborhood.
Residents wanting to run these small markets will have to meet certain regulations to get city approval. Hours, parking, noise and other concerns were cited by some community members as reasons why residential farmers markets might not be such a great idea. But after more than a year in development, the idea was supported 12-0 by the Los Angeles City Council.
The new law will likely have the biggest impact in places where farmers' markets never existed, like South L.A. "It's hard for some market managers to get vendors out there," Kolla says. "This law will help those areas because the people who will be selling will, I think, be much more local."
And though a backyard farm or a front yard market might not seem to have a huge impact, Kolla says that with some creative thinking neighborhoods could create valuable new sources of local foods. "At first there won’t be much in the way of volume, until someone gets the bright idea of sharing gardens and pooling yards," Kolla says.
These small markets aren’t likely to make the food deserts of L.A. disappear. But they do offer one way for the city and others like it to find easy ways to encourage a better distribution of healthy food options.
Photo credit: Desmond Boylan / Reuters