Monday, December 31, 2012

Foodscaping in LA

A day filled with food, architecture, design and art make for a complete and soul satisfying day for me.  Had I had any idea all of this could be accomplished in L.A, I would have sought it our earlier.  I had no idea there was neighborhood gentrification going on just east of downtown L.A.  I had no idea my city had developed an Arts District in that neighborhood.  I had no idea this gentrified warehouse district, now known as the Arts District is the home of many new and old food based businesses. 

Biscuit Company Lofts, formerly The National Biscuit Company West Coast Headquarters
Then again, when you live in Los Angeles, one tends to stick within their 5 mile radius to avoid traffic. What a shame.

Burning off the last couple of vacation days of 2012, John and I opted for a staycation.  What to do so it feels like we actually took a vacation?  We took a chance on a random email invite from the Foodprint Project to take a foodscape mapping walk of downtown LA's new and old food related businesses.  What is the Foodprint Project you ask? 
Foodprint Project is an exploration of the ways food and cities give shape to one another. Founded by Nicola Twilley and Sarah Rich, the project is punctuated by a series of events in physical space.
We've done walking tours of other cities.  Why not do one our own town?   Even more intriguing, we could participate in mapping what we're seeing in real time with our cell phones.  How hipsterish!

This BID (Building Improvement District), aka Warehouse/Arts District has really been in transition for  decades.  What started out as citrus groves in the late 1800's, turning into rail yards for centralized warehouse goods distribution to abandoned old-school industrial spaces is now a burgeoning, thriving hub of artistic green living.

Old Rail Spur Turned to Strolling and Dining Charm
The zoning, existing building stock and the neighborhood had the right combination to encourage this urban center to become home to artists' live/work studios.

Food artisans naturally are attracted to the same environs creating a new wave of creative food-based businesses.

Remember our food mapping project?  Over 50 people participated on the walk.  For those who wanted to participate, we live texted pictures to a central website of what we were seeing along the way.  At the end of our journey we would be able to see our collective pictures documenting our experience.

Let's get started.  Our first stop, a caffeine artisan.  Handsome Coffee Roasters goals include being hospitable, accessible and giving uncompromising quality. Roasted on site, co-owner Tyler Wells graciously opened up their workroom to show off their antique beauty of a roaster to us. 

A coffee tidbit according to Tyler, you shouldn't have to doctor up coffee (i.e. sugar, cream, etc) to make it taste palatable. A good cup of coffee means the roasted beans haven't been burnt. You know who he's talking about if you've been to any top visited coffee chain.

Along the way to our next destination, the friendly neighborhood greeter...

A work in progress, the couple behind The Spirit Guild describe their vision of making craft liquor from California's own abundant source of sugar, fruit.  Standing in front of their newly acquired workspace, their description neatly fits the definition of the farm to table movement.  Their distillery is slated to open in 2013.  Yes, they will have a tasting room, pending permitting of course.

Site of the Future Spirit Guild

As in any gentrifying urban neighborhood can attest to,  groceries can be hard to come by.  Even though the district's residential population is growing leaps and bounds, there is no grocery store; a food desert.  For now, most residents are making weekly treks to Pasadena 12 miles away.  That will soon change.

Mural by Street Artist, Peter Roa

Local Arts District residents Keri Aivazis and Carolyn Paxton have made the steep investment of retrofitting the old warehouse above into a future food market.  The ginormous chipmunk mural painted as a Los Angeles Freewalls Project will be retained.   It will be known as the Urban Radish where most items will be locally sourced and finely curated.  Knowing their typical consumer, it will have a full range of pricing and small packaging for living in a small urban kitchen.

A Sneak Peek at the Plans

Metal Shed to Retrofitted Building Housing a Grocery Store
Not all food artisans are requiring a store front.  Instead of eating Fruit Loops, why not have your healthy cereal accompanied by Cow Wow organic milk tasting like Fruit Loops.  Best way to get the word out at the moment, be a street vendor.

Our food culture requires mass food warehousing before final distribution.  Imagine trying to feed over 12 million people in the LA metro area and beyond.  We visited one such cold storage business.

Up & Coming Chefs Ask this Warehouse for the Next Hot Item, Edible Herb Crystals

The end of our tour led us to the latest entree to the District, Beastia.  Less than 2 months old, head chef Ori Menashe makes everything from scratch including curing his own meats.  If only I could share with you the tremendous smells emanating from this restaurant. 

After our adventurous walk we ended at Villain's Tavern for happy hour, where we viewed (and you can too) our collective mapping activity led by civic media and gaming researcher, Benjamin Stokes.  Seeing what we had just witnessed through other people's lenses made the journey all the more interesting.

Once again life proves taking a chance on doing something out of the ordinary can deliver its greatest rewards.  That very statement has given me a moment of clarity and an idea about the future of this blog.   Stay tuned .....

Happy New Year!

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