LA Urban Rural Roundtable

This week will see the second convening of the Los Angeles Urban Rural Roundtable. While I have generally always supported strengthening bonds between urban areas and the rural, food-producing areas that surround them, I have occasionally had a concern with some of the ways “Foodshed” enthusiasts have sought to implement the concept.

In a nutshell, my concern has typically been that a heavy-handed approach might be imposed by well-meaning City officials that would serve neither the farmers nor the urban “eaters” they claim to serve. Some may view studies of how much areas like Ventura could contribute to the grain, beans and forage needs of Los Angeles as just an interesting thought experiment. I have worried that this data, while not too utilitarian in the best case, could form the basis of some staggeringly bad policy decisions.

And so when I was approached about representing agriculture on a panel that would prepare food policy recommendations for the City of Los Angeles Mayor’s office, I accepted with a frankly defensive mindset. I wanted to be there to nip any bad ideas in the bud.

After the first session, though,I was very happy to see that my fears were misplaced. The group assembled from all over Southern California has demonstrated a very practical sense of purpose. There is a desire to see that the types of fruits and vegetables that are typically produced around LA’s periphery make it to the consumers at LA’s center.

A few highlights from my perspective:

1) A general understanding that the food access issues that plague inner LA are not production problems, or even transportation problems… We grow the needed fruits and veggies and most of them travel through Los Angeles.

2) While the room held many critics of the “conventional food system”, there was an awareness that the often maligned, subsidized GMO monocultures are not representative of Southern and Central California agriculture.

3) A sense that whatever faults we may have, Southern California agriculture is a responsible environmental partner… less impactful that our sprawling suburban neighbors.

I know the Roots of Change Fund (organizers of the Roundtable) are concerned that relatively few farmers will be able to attend the second session. Some of this may be the Orange County location. But I think more probably, there is a certain sense that they do not need to be there to defend themselves. From this farmer’s perspective, that’s a pretty big accomplishment.

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