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Meet AG Kawamura and Ann Cutner Firestone of Solutions for Urban Agriculture in Orange County

Today we’d like to introduce you to AG Kawamura and Ann Cutner Firestone.

A.G. is a 3rd generation urban farmer from California. He is the former Secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture (2003-2010). As co-chair of Solutions From the Land, he has worked to promote innovative strategies for sustainable agricultural systems, including the formation of the North American Alliance for Climate Smart Agriculture. He serves on several boards and committees including: The Board on Agriculture and Natural Resources (BANR), a policy arm of the National Academy of Sciences’ Natural Resource Council; National Executive Committee member of 25×25; Ag Advisory Committee member of The Chicago Council on Global Affairs and the Agree Initiative; External Advisory Board for the Agricultural Sustainability Institute at UC Davis.  He is a former chair and current board member of Western Growers Association. Locally, he is the founding chair of Solutions For Urban Agriculture (Previously Orange County Harvest) and for over 30 years has been dedicated to the goal of ending hunger in Southern Calif by working in innovative ways to provide fresh produce to local food banks. Through his company, Orange County Produce, LLC, he is engaged in building an exciting, interactive 21st-century 100-acre agricultural showcase at the Orange County Great Park in Irvine, CA.

Ann is a Landscape Architect with over 32 years of design and construction experience. As a Principal of ima Design (from 1999-2015), she led large and small projects for some of the top community, resort, retail, and entertainment clientele in the world. With family roots in farming on the Big Island of Hawaii, she always had a passion for urban agriculture and permaculture often incorporating these values into her projects. Esencia Farm in Rancho Mission Viejo is a current reflection of her ima team’s design passion to bring our agricultural heritage back into our communities. She is a founding Board member of the United States Green Building Council (USGBC) Orange County and a founding Executive Committee member of the Urban Land Institute (ULI) Sustainable Communities Initiative Council (SCIC). She developed and instructed a course called Sustainable Sites-A Collaborative Approach for UCI Extension Sustainability Program. She served on the Landscape Architecture Advisory Council (LADAC) for Cal Poly State University, San Luis Obispo and in 2012 and 2017 participated in a Permaculture and Sustainability trip to Cuba. As SFUA board member, she co-chairs the Harvest Moon Celebration and Chairs the event committee providing educational opportunities to the community.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
The challenges for relatively new non-profits like SFUA is always related to getting the story out about what we do and the positive impacts we have in our community. The opportunity to tell our story to a wider audience can bring significant new support, funding, and collaboration. When we combine function with the funding we can deliver, in a very short time remarkable results. However, as we work to implement a new vision for how edible landscaping and re-purposing of underutilized properties can become productive and multi-beneficial, many times the existing regulations and zoning restrictions become the obstacles that stop our projects from proceeding. We need new interpretations for agricultural and horticultural activity in urban areas that will encourage unusual collaborations with cities, counties, private landowners and other NGO’s who are willing to explore solutions to hunger, food insecurity, job creation and nutrition outreach.

Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about Solutions for Urban Agriculture – what should we know?
We are very proud of our Farm to Food Bank program-starting with the Incredible Edible Park, Incredible Edible Farm I and II supporting the Second Harvest Food Bank.

And most recently The Giving Farm located at Westminister High School. We have three articles that we can share with you on The Giving Farm that supports Orange County Food Bank. We started it with seed money from Impact Giving in collaboration with OC Food Bank, OC Farm Bureau, Westminister High School and Solutions for Urban Agriculture less than one year ago. Last Thanksgiving, we harvested 8 tons of food that were distributed to the local kitchens serving Thanksgiving dinners to the food insecure. It involved over 2000 high schools students during the harvest.

We have a working board of 3rd generations farmers, landscape architects and attorneys with a heart for growing food for those who need it most, sustainability and community health.

Is there a characteristic or quality that you feel is essential to success?
AG Kawamura-authenticity, passion to serve, connected to the community and experienced 3rd generation farmer.

Ann Cutner Firestone-authenticity, ability to find common ground, attracted to innovative solutions, collaboration and caring.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:

Curtis Gibbs, Nathan Gipple

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