An Experiment in Urban Agriculture


Three years ago, a couple of friends and I began an experiment in urban agriculture in the backyard of a house just off Claremont Blvd. We built a 2' high raised bed out of Douglas fir and filled it with a blend of topsoil and compost from a local soil yard. In doing so, we joined legions of backyard farmers across the nation who have embarked on similar experiments - to determine how best to apply agricultural knowledge and techniques to small-scale urban settings.

Today, our company, Farmscape, maintains approximately seventy intensively-planted vegetable gardens across the Los Angeles area. Many are in Claremont, but others are also located in the more temperate microclimates of Santa Monica, Altadena, and Silver Lake. Despite this growth, we are just one facet of urban agriculture in Los Angeles. The nearly one hundred community gardens in the area add up to an acreage that dwarfs that of our network of urban gardens. The acreage of backyard gardeners is larger still.

However, there is one key thing we hope to contribute to these efforts to build a more sustainable, secure and localized food system: data. Our backyard farmers log numerous pieces of information as they service the gardens on their route. They track how long the irrigation runs, how many pounds of produce they harvest, and how long they are in each garden. We have stopped short of counting tomato hornworms in our gardens... for now at least.

Three years after beginning our bone-headed experiment, we have collected some exciting preliminary data. We estimate that:

  • Water use in properly irrigated edible landscapes is at least 50% lower than lawn.
  • The carbon footprint attributable to organic, homegrown produce is almost 70% lower than produce from your local grocery store.
  • Residents can grow at least 2.5 pounds of food per square foot of garden space per year using intensive planting techniques.
  • A weekly hire-a-farmer service can grow produce for less than $10/pound given large enough plots dedicated to vegetable production.
  • It is possible to grow more tomatoes in a single raised bed than a family can eat.

At a time when great quantities of time are spent bemoaning the many faults of industrialized agriculture, we are excited to join with others who are proactively working to make the food system better. Claremont residents should be proud of the role they have played — and are playing — in crafting a better food system.

Now, let's collect some more data!

Please join us for the next Sustainability Dialog: “Reducing your carbon footprint—one bite at a time” on Monday, April 4 at 7pm in the Hahn Bldg at 420 N. Harvard Ave.