‘It’s too important to let go’: Sasha Kanno brings urban farming to Long Beach at Farm Lot 59

Sasha Kanno’s introduction to urban farming began in 2008, when she realized she no longer wanted to work as a florist in the film industry.

Between a “brutal” commute and a time consuming job that wasn’t conducive to raising a family, Kanno began looking for ways to raise her son in a natural environment, while still remaining in the city.

After visiting Portland, she realized that while small-scale farms attached to restaurants were the norm there, “down here, it just wasn’t really happening,” she said.

Kanno saw an opportunity to introduce a similar concept to Long Beach.

After spending time planting trees with the grassroots organization, Wrigley is Going Green, and creating a community garden also in the Wrigley neighborhood as part of a two-year pilot project, Kanno knew she wanted to turn more toward the production side, and began scouting properties for a full-scale farm.

In 2010, she founded Farm Lot 59.

Built on the remnants of an illegal dump in central Long Beach, the farm’s first seeds were planted in spring 2012.

Learning the ins and outs of creating a small-scale urban farm while navigating the numerous obstacles was no easy feat, Kanno said.

“I drove to every farm I could within a 500-mile radius, I looked over fences, I went to an ecological farming conference, I went to the small farm conference in San Diego, I read every book and tried to scale it to my half-acre project,” Kanno said. “What I’ve built is a super small-scale version of all these bigger, more diverse farms.”

Since its inception, the farm has leaned into its strengths, which are salad greens and herbs, and the organization has supplied numerous local chefs and restaurants with fresh greens according to their specifications and menus, Kanno said.

“We’ve tried a lot of things— some things don’t work, some things have worked out great,” Kanno said. “You change and adapt, and agriculture, especially, is day-to-day differences . . .  it’s isolating in a way, because you don’t have a lot of farming community like you would in a more rural environment.”

But over the past couple of years, the farm has turned largely to distributing produce to food hubs and fundraisers. In May, Farm Lot 59 became the vegetable and produce supplier of a new food hub located in Admiral Kidd Park, an effort that is supported by Food Finders, a food-rescue organization.

“Growing for the community is the right thing to do, the better model,” Kanno said.

Since then, Farm Lot 59 has grown, washed, packed and distributed over 2,000 pounds of produce to the park’s hub.

“There’s a big shift that needs to happen to support local farms,” Kanno said. “It’s not up to us to fundraise— I did that for years, it was exhausting, trying to print recipe cards, trying to do all these different things,” Kanno said. “What I learned is I need to stay in my lane, and I’m a producer.”

While big agriculture is subsidized, urban agriculture typically doesn’t receive the same benefits, said Kanno, who also works on the policy side with the USDA’s Farm Service Agency.

Everything from land access, to water rights, to accessing the necessary equipment, is often an overly complicated process for urban farms, Kanno said.

“After you figure out that you even want to be in agriculture, it’s not a real desirable occupation, because it’s hard,” Kanno said. “The land itself is expensive, insurance is expensive. And it’s not a business where you can resell goods, or make something and sell it—you are with the force of nature. So if I can help make it easier for people and have a model for them to be successful, I think that’s a bigger point of having a farm.”

Along with producing hyperlocal and nutritious produce, Farm Lot 59 sells specialty flowers, typically from spring through Thanksgiving, which can be sold either through a weekly or biweekly subscription service, or can be purchased at its onsite flower shop.

The nonprofit also focuses on outreach and community education efforts, from how to use certain ingredients to reducing waste, Kanno said.

“It’s now more common to eat organic and eat local, but when we started—it’s not a new movement, we didn’t invent it—it just wasn’t a priority down here,” Kanno said.

Farm Lot 59 supports Ground Education, a nonprofit that builds and cares for gardens in elementary schools while providing lessons to students across Long Beach Unified School District.

“Even though our farm can’t feed the entire city, the hope is that we’re able to inspire and educate and show people how they can do it themselves,” Kanno said. “The whole point in the beginning was to feed the community, but you have to have hurdles to be able to get there.”

Over the years, Kanno and Farm Lot 59 have coped with everything from having no utilities and no neighbors, to experiencing waves of theft and vandalism.

By now, Kanno has learned to focus on what she’s truly good at, rather than spreading herself thin by trying to manage every aspect of her growing nonprofit, she said.

“I’m good at the end product, but sometimes how I get there is a little rough, and it’s not easy,” Kanno said.

Despite the challenges of navigating costs, complicated access, and the unpredictability of working with nature, Kanno is persistent.

“I just have such a stubborn belief that there has to be a  working farm in this city,” Kanno said. “I refuse to believe that Long Beach, as amazing as it is, can’t support a working farm. It’s too important to let go.”

Despite the challenges, this past year was the best season yet, Kanno said.

“As a farmer, you’re eternally optimistic, so of course, I’m excited for next year,” Kanno said. “As exhausted and tired and burnt out as we are, we’re still looking forward to next season.”

Contact Sasha Kanno at [email protected] to get involved.

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