LA Urban Farms Offers an Ingenious Solution to Gardening in the City
Hannah Martin | Architectural Digest
It can be tricky to grow your own food when you live in a sprawling concrete jungle like Los Angeles, but LA Urban Farms is on a mission to prove otherwise. With the help of their vertical aeroponic gardens, organic fruits, vegetables, herbs and edible flowers thrive in just about any nook and cranny of the city.
How It Works
According to LA Urban Farms cofounder Wendy Coleman, growing produce in these vertical gardens uses 90% less water than conventional soil gardening, thanks to the structure’s closed-loop system, which essentially recycles its own water.
At the base of the garden, a reservoir holds 20 gallons of water mixed with a nutrient solution formulated for optimal plant health and human nutrition. A submersible pump pushes that water up through the center of the column, where the plant’s roots hang. As it trickles back down, it mists the roots with nutrient-rich water. The same water continues to recirculate until the plants absorb it.
“In just 30 inches, you can grow 44 different plants, providing an abundance of produce in what would typically be unused space — all without the use of any harmful chemicals,” Coleman said. “Most of the produce growing in these vertical gardens can be harvested in just 28 days.”
Contrary to what most of us remember from grade school, these plants don’t needsoil. Because of the aeroponics design explained above, city dwellers have the possibility of growing their own food in places where it was previously not an option. They don’t even have to get their hands dirty.
“It keeps you up at night, thinking of all of the possibilities for this,” Coleman said. “It’s great for someone with a balcony who wants their own garden. It’s great for growing on concrete, in a parking lot, on a ship, on a rooftop. You can be indoors with grow lights. They’re terrific for schools — it’s like a living science experiment.”
Who’s Paying Attention?
Coleman’s interest in the technology grew out of her daughter Jessica’s passion for sustainability — she even created her own sustainable living major while at NYU. While driving in Santa Barbara one day, the Colemans spotted the vertical gardens in the parking lot of a café, growing everything from strawberries and kale to zucchini. They stopped to inquire about buying one for their backyard, but their enthusiasm for the idea was immediate.
Eventually, they met with inventor Tim Blank, whose background includes working with NASA and Disney at Epcot Center’s exhibit “Living With the Land,” where he was the lead horticultural expert for 12 years, growing crops from all over the world hydroponically. His vertical aeroponic gardens are approved by both the Clinton Global Initiative and the U.S. Green Building Council for LEED points.
After meeting with Blank, Coleman and her family made it their mission to spread this highly sustainable technology throughout Los Angeles and beyond. Their first project was a rooftop farm on the old Google building in Santa Monica. It was the first of its kind on a commercial office building in the city.
In Los Angeles, Jessica Alba’s the Honest Company and Discovery Land Company are among the visible businesses growing with LA Urban Farms. Local restaurants such asCulver City’s Cafe Vida are also taking part.
“Chefs love the fact that the plants are living, their roots still attached when harvested and therefore more flavorful and nutrient-dense,” Coleman said.
LA Urban Farms has a location at Hollywood’s Sunset Gower Studios, where they are growing more than 800 plants for television chef Helen Cavallo, whose Food and Bounty restaurant on the studio lot is just 15 steps away. The partnership is a model for the future of local food, according to Coleman, and one that aims to combat the fact that the average bite of food in America travels over 1,500 miles before it’s served, losing nutritional value and wasting resources along the way.
Of course, it’s not just Angelenos who are looking for innovative ways to garden. LA Urban Farms’ collaborative projects are cropping up outside the city, from Stanford University to The Bakers Bay Resort in the Bahamas and Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas. Coleman is also looking forward to their next project — a greenhouse with over 300 vertical gardens, set to open in Atlantic Beach, Fla., in early 2015.
“Our goal is to be a significant part of the local food-growing movement,” Coleman and her daughter Jessica said. “We love helping people grow their own food in a sustainable way. There is such a different connection and appreciation for your food when you grow it yourself. It’s a powerful idea and it inspires us.”
To order your own garden, to set up an urban farm or to learn more about LA Urban Farms visit laurbanfarms.com.
This story first appeared in the Jan. 30 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
Food & Bounty, the just-opened canteen at Hollywood’s Sunset Gower Studios (1438 N. Gower St.), is reinventing the studio commissary, where food is often “phoned in,” says chef-owner Helen Cavallo.
Her casual, employees- and guests-only eatery serves fresh, locally sourced food, with plenty of vegetarian options (such as cauliflower steaks with romanesco sauce) alongside classics such as the Cubano panini. The menu suits Lisa Edelstein, the lead of Bravo’s Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce, which operated its production offices out of the studio during its debut season. “I like my job more than I like pasta,” jokes Edelstein, whose diet includes neither meat nor gluten. (Tony Goldwyn, who shoots Scandal at Sunset Gower, also is a regular.)Girlfriends’ Guide creator Marti Noxon remembers her writers previously using the patio for smoke breaks, dubbing it “Casa de Fumar.” Now it’s occupied by rows of aeroponic towers where Cavallo grows produce, provided by LA Urban Farms. A former executive producer for Quentin Tarantino’s company A Band Apart, Cavallo quit nearly a decade ago to pursue cooking, launching Food & Bounty six years ago as a catering company and now adding her first restaurant to the mix.
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“It’s the way our parents and grandparents used to eat,” says Cavallo, whose menu also includes her aunt’s meatball recipe. “It’s real food.”