Hyperlocal Microfarms—Doing so much with so little

Kait LeonardBy Kait Leonard

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Hyperlocal Microfarms—Doing so much with so little
Degnan Microfarm
Hyperlocal Microfarms—Doing so much with so little Everyone’s heard the slogan, “Think globally. Act locally.” But Jamiah Hargins, Founder, Executive Director, and Director of the Board of Crop Swap LA, believes we can do better. He’s working on the hyperlocal level through microfarming to feed families, create jobs, save water and other resources, and empower communities. Background As weather becomes more unpredictable, it follows that food could become increasingly scarce. In this country, many people are privileged enough to not yet feel that threat. However, according to The World Bank, food price inflation is on the rise worldwide. In Los Angeles County, one in three households are food insecure, and approximately one in four individuals live in areas identified as food deserts, according to Public Exchange’s June 2022 amended report. Terms like food insecurity, food desert, and food apartheid flood the media. Though not synonymous, they all have to do with a growing concern over the declining availability of healthy food. People living in marginalized, segregated, or remote communities already struggle to find affordable nutritious food. Social activist and entrepreneur, Jamiah Hargins, has done something few people do when confronted with a problem—he’s come up with a truly new idea for farming unused city spaces. The Hyperlocal Solution Not everyone has the luxury of time, space, and resources to grow their own food, and congested urban areas don’t have a lot of unused land waiting to be converted into community gardens. But Jamiah Hargins grew up a “Navy brat” in a family that practiced emergency drills and imprinted him with a survivalist mentality. He worried that in an emergency, most people could be out of food and water in a matter of days, so he set out to find a solution. Looking around his neighborhood, he saw unused residential lawns sucking up water and providing little of value. Hargins envisioned crops in these urban patches. Hargins started in 2018 with a neighborhood fruit and vegetable swap announced over NextDoor. This evolved into three residential microfarms in South Los Angeles, with another project planned in 2024. During the initial phases of Crop Swap LA, Hargins didn’t own property that could be used to create a model microfarm, but he wasn’t daunted. He made arrangements with homeowners to share their lots.
Jamiah Hargins working a microfarm
Owners, grant money, and donations funded the construction of the microfarms. After the sites became operational, Crop Swap LA managed them, sharing crops with the homeowners. The original location, Asante Farm on Angeles Vista Blvd., got its start with the help of an LA2050 grant from the Goldhirsh Foundation. The La Salle microfarm was purchased by the owner as an alternative to draught-tolerant landscaping. Hargins is the owner of the third microfarm, located on Degnan Blvd.

The innovation doesn’t stop with converting lawns into land that produces food for around 70 families. These crops use approximately 8% of the water consumed by a typical lawn. To achieve this, an irrigation system catches rainwater to water the plants. This water flows through the crops and is collected in the system, so it can cycle back to do it all again. In addition to conserving water, the environmental impact of shipping is almost completely cut, since the food goes to families within one mile of each location. And hyperlocal distribution ensures the food reaches the table with its maximum nutritional value.

Beyond Urban Los Angeles
Unfortunately, there is only so much of Jamiah Hargins and Crop Swap LA to go around. Since the organization is responsible for operating the microfarms, it does not yet have the resources to develop properties far and wide.

In fact, offers of yards outside of urban Los Angeles have been turned down for logistical reasons. Still, the microfarm model can serve as an inspiration for other communities to view their local unused or underused land in a new way. And if this model looks appealing, Crop Swap LA offers a series of four online workshops teaching the necessary skills to begin microfarming.

Jamiah Hargins cares passionately about finding solutions to problems. His model of working hyperlocally may not be the only answer the world needs, but all it takes is a stroll by one of the Crop Swap LA farms while the volunteers and staff are working to see that he’s on to something very big in very tiny spaces.

To learn more about Crop Swap LA workshops and find more information about the organization, visit Crop Swap LA at cropswapla.org. There’s also a link to their Endowment for Urban Farming for people interested in supporting their work. For future home-growers, Hargins’ coloring book, Captain Plant It, can be ordered at lulu.com. And ToiletTrees are coming soon. These little devices fit on toilets and use tank water to grow plants.
Kait Leonard

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