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At Huerta Del Valle, a community garden in Ontario, California, organizers want to see the people there grow with the food. After nearly three years, 62 families grow organic produce in their own 10- by 20-foot plots for which they pay a mere $30 a year. To grow the people, Huerta Del Valle will pursue an ambitious plan to build a community and education center. The campaign moves them closer to an ambitious goal of providing the community with its own organic produce, improving community health and opportunity, and teaching new skills. Meanwhile, the city applied for and won a Healthy Eating Active Living grant to address childhood and adult diet- and exercise-related issues. To provide seeds, tools, and other garden necessities, Huerta Del Valle (which means Garden of the Valley) keeps a working farm next to the garden. Levine said the community members using the garden say they’re feeling better and loving the food.
San Bernardino County, the largest county in the United States, stretches all the way from Southern California’s Inland Empire to the California-Nevada state line. Thanks to people like Arthur Levine, local and urban agriculture in San Bernardino County is experiencing a burgeoning grassroots movement. Originally from New York City, Levine learned in school how growing food provides pathways to community and political power, and became involved in local food and agriculture efforts. Los Angeles was too far away, so Levine became interested in starting something new locally. Initiated in 2010, Huerta del Valle is engaged in the work of food justice, with support from Pitzer College.
Yet it’s land, which is so necessary for an urban agriculture operation, which is often in question. Levine is also working on changing policy—this includes making it legal to raise chickens in urban settings. Also in Ontario is Amy’s Farm, a polycultural operation centered on sustainable and organic production.
Amy’s Farm also sells produce on-site and at the Pomona Farmers’ Market, provides volunteer opportunities, and offers a variety of classes. Bekendam also knows that the impact of his farm in urban San Bernardino County can be quite powerful. A like-minded operation is the Incredible Edible Community Garden, co-founded and operated by Mary Petit and Eleanor Torres. The Incredible Edible Garden consists of 14 sites, including nine community gardens, two aquaponics facilities and three community fruit parks. I travel to about 16 college campuses each year, and on each campus I talk a lot about sustainable food.
In my opinion, it is important to view sustainability not as an end goal, but as a moving target — a process, something that is constantly pushing us to improve. Pitzer Executive Chef Marcos Rios demonstrates how to make a salad using Farm to Fork produce.

We talked about a number of these accomplishments during a Sustainable Food Forum held at Pitzer College in Claremont, CA.
For me, one of the most inspirational parts of the event was getting to hear the story behind Huerta del Valle, a community garden in Ontario just a few miles away from Pitzer that’s helping transform a community. I got to see Huerta firsthand and hear more of Maria’s story when a group of us visited a few days later. But before she settled for medication, Maria was able to bring together a small group of neighbors to grow their own produce on a tiny piece of public-school land.
About a third of the garden is reserved for about 60 families to tend their own raised bed plots for $30 per year. The other two sections of the garden are for a community area that grows produce for everyone and an “intensive” section that’s used to grow produce to sell both retail and wholesale. The four-acre site has space to double its rented plots by next year, said Arthur Levine, technical support and projects manager for the nonprofit organization. The group raised $18,000 in one month to cover the cost of one of four structures that will make up the center – a library built from a discarded shipping container. They include low- and fixed-income residents, accepting payment methods, such as SNAP (Supplemental Food Assistance Program).
So the farm component of the community garden is designed to raise funds to keep the project going,” he said. A successful Kickstarter campaign moves the group another step closer to realizing its goals of addressing more than diet. The mission of Huerta del Valle is to bring members of the community together in growing their own organic crops. Currently, 52 family plots are being managed, along with communal growing areas and a two-acre urban farm that grows vegetables for selling. As he continues to involve people in the production of their own food, he strives to educate young people about the importance of local food production. It was founded to give residents of Southern California the opportunity to visit a working urban farm. If you are interested in supporting the project and drawing attention to your useful (and sustainable) product or service, send us a note at yardfarmers (at) At the beginning of my talks, I always ask people if they think Bon Appetit is “sustainable,” and then I ask them to answer the question when thinking about themselves as individuals.
There is work we’re doing, on the individual, grassroots, and institutional levels that’s moving us toward more socially and environmentally responsible practices. The activities included a local salad demonstration by Pitzer Executive Chef Marcos Rios, a presentation about how Bon Appetit is addressing food waste, and a screening of the film Plant This Movie.
The forum was my first opportunity to hear Huerta’s story directly from the woman who started the project, Maria Alonso. Back in 2010, Maria was searching for an affordable way to get organic produce to feed her son, after his doctor told her it would help address his ADHD without medication. Soon after it began, the garden was nearly shut down, until a new, more permanent location was found under the flight path to the Ontario Airport at the edge of Bon View Park.

This section is farmed by three part-time farmers who get a small portion of the profits that come from selling the produce to the Bon Appetit team at Pitzer, three restaurants, and at farmers markets. The program, called Pitzer in Ontario, is an experiential learning opportunity for students of urban studies and community-based research.
They noted Huerta Del Valle’s efforts and started negotiating with the group to manage the project.
It’s more reminiscent of life in Mexico, where many people incorporate food from nearby farms or their own garden into their diet. Levine said organizers want to pursue economic development, providing food and farming jobs in a community where many residents depend on temporary warehouse positions for income.
He wanted to be involved in the same kind of work, but could not find anything similar to get involved in. Levine believes that people who work together to grow their own food also build community, sustainability, health, vocation and relationships. From its inception, Huerta dell Valle has had a robust composting program (1,000 pounds a day of food waste). Through involving lower-income people in their garden (which consists of numerous sites, not contiguous), they address the very real issue of food insecurity in San Bernardino County. Pitzer Fellow and Maria’s right-hand man, Arthur Levine, who helped organize the forum, acted as translator and shared some of his favorite Mexican recipes using produce grown in the garden. But it turned out that medication was covered by insurance and affordable, while organic produce was prohibitively expensive. The garden has grown tremendously over the past five years, from a tiny garden plot to a four-acre garden that grows produce for and with help from the community, selling both wholesale and retail and offering community education classes. Nearly all of the community members involved in the farm are Mexican immigrants, so a wide array of traditional Mexican ingredients are grown on the farm, including cactus, which is one of the most resilient crops, growing rapidly from a piece of another cactus plant into a healthy plant using very little water. Anyone can come to the farm and buy the most affordable local organic produce around for just $1 per pound. One such student wanted to start a community garden to address food access for Ontario residents. He also has a vision of expanding urban agriculture in more areas of San Bernardino County.
We’re a long way away from a “sustainable” food system, but that’s why it’s even more important to be motivated by what we’re achieving. It is about families and students and friends, all coming together to cultivate not just organic produce but a more sustainable, more accessible, more equitable, more vibrant food system. They have been called a crop of the future, especially significant in a time of severe drought in California.

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