Farmscape Brings Urban Agriculture to Los Angeles
In a dry and sunny city like Los Angeles, planting grass is one of the more useless ways to use your property. It takes a lot of water to grow and it's expensive—but beyond that, what's the point when the climate supports much more interesting fauna, like succulents, and delicious ones, like fruits and vegetables? A company called Farmscape is proving that there's enough of an appetite for farming on residential land to turn the proposition into a high-growth business. The less-than-four-year-old company has 12 full-time employees—including seven farmers who receive a living wage plus healthcare—and is looking to keep growing.
"One of the things that people don’t talk about when they talk about the food system is who is working," says Rachel Bailin, Farmscape's marketing manager. It's often poorly paid and vulnerable migrant workers. But the company is changing that by bringing farm labor out into the open, into the yards of city-dwellers and businesses. So far they've installed more than 300 urban farms throughout the L.A. area and maintain 150 of them weekly.
Projects range from a rooftop garden on a downtown Los Angeles highrise to small plots for families. An exciting project in the works is a three-quarter acre-sized farm for a restaurant in the West San Fernando Valley. And the diversity of the projects is echoed by the diversity of their clients. "When we first started, we expected that our clients would be of a higher income level and would be two-parent working families," says Bailin. Instead, Farmscape has been delighted to build gardens for preschool teachers, single mothers, and institutions and business that want employee gardens as perks.
Bailin says the challenges of farming in Los Angeles are manifold. "You have to account for spaces that haven't had life or biodiversity for decades and then you kind of have to bring it back." The company uses raised beds to avoid contaminated soil and drip irrigation systems to provide water.
And their newest challenge? Running for office. The company has thrown its hat into the ring for the office of mayor of Los Angeles in the 2013 election, running on the platform of bringing back farms into the city. Bailin says it's an ironic way of questioning the bounds of "corporate personhood," extended to a corporation's right to free speech by the Supreme Court's ruling on Citizens United in 2010. "We’re testing the limit of what it is. If corporations are already deciding our politics by giving a bunch of money and lobbying, why not see if we can take out the middleman that would be the politician and make corporations the politician?"
It's a joke, of course, and the company will presumably never make it onto the ballot, but it's a clever way to get the word out about the company while making a statement. And perhaps this corporate candidate wouldn't be so bad anyway.