top of page

Alleviating Food Deserts in Los Angeles County through Urban Farming


Good nutrition is fundamental to maintaining good health & wellbeing. Although, healthy foods are limited to those who have access to it. According to the US Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service, about 23.5 million Americans live in a food desert, half of whom are considered low-income. Because of these statistics, it is essential to understand the consequences scarce neighborhoods face due to socioeconomic factors.  Historically, Los Angeles has experienced food scarcity based on economic status, ethnic background, and geographical location since racial segregation in the mid-1900s.  To this day, many communities in LA still experience food shortages and are unjustly living the consequences.


The current response to food insecurity in Los Angeles includes small community gardens but doesn’t have the ability to reach the supply that is needed. Integrating urban farming practices such as vertical farming would provide opportunities for greater food access and educational initiatives to engage communities and improve food scarcity. The purpose of this design study is to examine the current response to food deserts in LA County by establishing a mix-used space for mass food production & wellness education for communities experiencing food scarcity.  This project is placed in a 5 story the abandoned jail near the LA River and Elysian Park. Through space planning, the project scope includes vertical farms along with recreational and educational opportunities in selected spaces. 

Food Desert: (n.) an area that has limited access to affordable and nutritious food, in contrast with an area with higher access to supermarkets or vegetable shops with fresh foods, which is called a food oasis.

Food Deserts in LA County 

41,000 people living on the streets 

1,589,956 living in poverty 

South LA: 119 liquor stores vs. 91 grocery stores 

Vertical Farming: (n.) the practice of growing crops in vertically stacked layers. It often incorporates controlled-environment agriculture, which aims to optimize plant growth, and soilless farming techniques such as hydroponics, aquaponics, and aeroponics.


Open Field


3.9 kg of lettuce

per m2/y


Vertical Farming

80-120 kg of lettuce 

per m2/y


Open Field


250 L per kg lettuce 

Vertical Farming

1 L per kg lettuce

Historical review of food deserts in Los Angeles County,  Britannica 

Los Angeles County has had a long history of food insecurity since the mid-1900s. Starting in the 1940s,  Los Angeles’ population quickly rose after the Second Great Migration as African Americans from the South began to reach the west coast. During this time, Los Angeles put a lot of restrictions on housing, limiting minority groups to about 5% of the available land in LA, as 95% was considered off-limits. Racial segregation forced minority groups to settle in South East Los Angeles (Watts, Compton, Commerce, etc). These minority groups received little resources and attention from local government, lacking public transportation, proper schools, and public funding. In 1965, during the Civil Rights Movement, there was an incident regarding police brutality as a police officer arrested a man for driving under the influence and eventually led to an aggressive conflict. Others joined in which eventually led to large-scale rioting. Los Angeles, especially the neighborhoods of South East LA, were outraged by this event along with being fed up with their lack of public efforts which then started the Watts Riots. For multiple days, riots, looting, and fires turned Los Angeles into a warzone. This effort was to bring attention to the police incident but also to recognize the lack of support these communities get to live a life that lives up to the surrounding neighborhoods. Following this incident, Los Angeles County set a goal to improve schools, employment, housing, etc. These goals were not met by the time the 92 Riots happened after a similar incident regarding police brutality. Los Angeles, again, had to rebuild a large portion of LA, which was incited by the South East LA neighborhoods they asked for more grocery stores. Again, those needs were not met which is why we still see a lack of access to grocery stores in neighborhoods across LA Country and food deserts still exist. 

How COVID-19 impacted food deserts + the implications of those factorsMayo Clinic 

COVID-19 has had a disadvantaged impact on minorities and has had larger consequences for those who are lacking resources, healthy options and the ability to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Across America, minorities phase racism into everything and undertake the stress levels that follow many incidents. As stress is a leading factor in health & wellbeing, it has the ability to damage it. Along with racism, on average, 25% of service industry jobs are employed by Hispanic, Black of African Americans. Additionally, 18% of Hispanics and 10% of non-Hispanic Black people are uninsured. These health barriers have a large impact on the wellbeing of someone and have a huge ability to make many illnesses worse. Aside from minority groups, low-income families have consistently lived in multi-generational homes at a higher rate which comes with close living quarters and a lot of shared spaces. Both these health programs and limited access to healthy food make the risk of COVID much higher. While some families can get Whole Foods delivered to their homes, others are working the front lines having pre-packed meals for dinner. 

The impact urban farming can have on food systemsAgritecture 

Vertical farming in an urban setting has the potential to provide produce and green spaces in heat islands that statistically damage our earth as well as lack the ability to grow food nearby. Through methods such as rooftop gardens, green facades, community gardens, and edible landscape, there is potential to implement more greenery and vegetation into largely established cities. Smaller community gardens can provide the opportunity to reconnect communities and increase biodiversity all while producing 2x the current production rate of farms. Community gardens aim for “creating community empowerment and taking back control of the food system. Instead of looking at urban farms as the solution to all of the problems we have in the food system…we should look at them as part of a larger solution.” Although urban farming is a great method for rebuilding neighborhoods and establishing community engagement, they require a large sum of money to maintain and keep production. ⅔ of farmers do not make a living from farming and as the cost of real estate in a city is much higher the construction of the space will be extremely expensive. Obtaining the budget to build the space and buying the technology to produce the amount of food needed can only come from donations that do not need investment back. 

Lincoln Heights Jail

421 N 19th Street, Los Angeles CA 90031


This site was selected to challenge agricultural farming methods into an urban setting. The Lincoln Heights Jail is a five-floor, 229,120 sq ft building with a vast amount of space for vertical farming. Located near the LA River and Elysian Park, vertical farming methods can complement this abandoned site with biophilic design elements. The site is also surrounded by a parking lot, a bike bath, and multiple train stations. The scope of this project will include all 5 floors, excluding the basement, of the abandoned jail including the rooftop and the entire parking lot. Through space planning, there is potential for a high yield of farming through vertical farms along with recreational and educational opportunities in selected spaces. 


Site Analysis


Site Plan

Sun Diagrams


12:00 PM | As the sun diagrams illustrate, the shadows cast north into the building on the south side. This creates an opportunity for the vegetation on the south side to obtain more natural light. Also by opening up the core of the building as well as floors 4 & 5, more light can be brought in.  

Site Images


Architectural Proposal


Space Planning



bottom of page