Tara Kolla of Silver Lake Farms in Los Angeles fought to revise city codes so that she and other urban farmers could sell their products.
WhyHunger is pleased to be partnering with Andrianna Natsoulas, longtime food sovereignty activist and author of the forthcoming book Food Voices: Stories of the Food Sovereignty Movement. In 2010, Andrianna began a journey across the Americas to capture the stories of people working towards and living a just and sustainable food system. As she continues her journey, spanning from Nova Scotia to Ecuador to Brazil and beyond, we will feature highlights of the stories she gathers.
Tara Kolla runs Silver Lake Farms in Los Angeles, California. She started in 2003, but came up against archaic city laws that shut her down. With help from her community, she eventually overturned the law. Tara now grows micro greens and flowers and coordinates with six other farmers to supply Los Angeles residents with a Community Supported Agriculture program.
“It began when my husband and I purchased this property in Silver Lake. It had half an acre of land. At the time we really didn’t know what to do with it. It just came to me that I should grow on it. And so I did some research. Went downtown. Asked some questions: ‘Can I grow flowers, cut them and sell them at farmer’s markets?’ Some people said, ‘yes.’ Some people said, ‘no.’ It really depended on who you talked to. Finally, because it was so confusing, I went to my local council member, and asked, ‘Can I grow flowers and sell them at market?’ The answer came back, ‘yes.’ That’s when I launched Silver Lake Farms.
“In March 2009, I opened the door to a very sheepish man on the porch. He predicated everything by saying, ‘I really don’t want to be here. I’ve left it to last. But, unfortunately I’m here to tell you cannot sell your flowers.’ He was from Building and Safety – the code enforcement division of the Department of City Planning for LA. He was enforcing this code that basically was interpreted to mean that it was not legal to sell flowers that were grown in a residential garden. You can grow vegetables in a residential garden and sell them at market. But not flowers. And then it turns out not fruit either. It originated from the original city planning codes that were written in 1946 that said truck gardening was permissible. That’s all it says in the code books. Several neighbors did not like the fact that I was growing flowers and selling them at the local farmer’s market. So, they decided to do research. They used the letter of the law, not the spirit of the law. They checked the dictionary definition of truck gardening, saw that it only referred to vegetables and presented this argument to Building and Safety. And said, ‘Ah she can’t sell flowers, they’re not vegetables. That’s what truck gardening is. It’s vegetables.’ So Building and Safety had no choice. They had to shut me down.
“I fought and decided that I would change the law. And luckily for me, there are some cool people in Silver Lake. A small group of us had meetings with the city, city officials and Eric Garcetti, the City Council president. So Eric Garcetti took this issue onboard and guided us along and backed it. It wasn’t difficult to get support. We got lots of letters from people who wrote in. We formed an organization called Urban Farming Advocates. A year later it changed. It’s been revised. Truck gardening has been revised. It’s now called truck farming. You are allowed to grow pretty much everything—vegetables, fruit, seedlings, flowers, nuts, fibers like cotton, loofah sponges—and sell them off-site.
“Last year I launched a community supported agriculture program. And we currently have about 120 shareholders. There are six different farmers involved and myself with the micro greens. So hooray for urban farming!”