Long Beach – California’s seventh most populous city and one of the most affected by the state’s poor air quality – is now giving its vacant lot owners tax incentives by entering a contract with the city to use empty lots for agricultural purposes for a period of five years. The Urban Agriculture Incentive Zone Program (UAIZ) aims to nourish Long Beach’s economic growth, community development and access to local organic produce. UAIZ is also being applied in San Francisco, San Jose, Sacramento, and Santa Clara.

“I encourage all vacant lot owners to take advantage of this rare opportunity. This UAIZ program creates a win-win situation, fostering economic growth in Long Beach while paving the way for more locally grown produce,” said Vice Mayor Rex Richardson.

To qualify for the program, vacant lots must be between 0.10 to 3 acres in size. The lots must have no habitable structures; all on-site structures must be accessory to agricultural use. No part of the lot should be listed on the Department of Toxic Substance Control’s EnviroStor Database, and they should be within Long Beach City limits and comply with City zoning codes.

“The program is now open and we are looking forward to possibly getting our first contract through this year. These vacant lots have the potential to provide great community benefits, and we hope to help realize them through urban agriculture,” says Larry Rich, Long Beach’s sustainability coordinator.

Not only will this program add to Long Beach’s agricultural benefits, it will also contribute to improving the city’s deteriorating air quality. As a coastal city with freight crossing its path from all over the U.S., Long Beach exhales enough nitrogen oxide and sulfur oxide to affect the health of Long Beach’s residents. Although efforts have significantly reduced health risks, residents nearest the ports still face higher pollution-related health risks than the rest of the Southern California population.

“Health risk increases with proximity to the source of pollution, and as a result, communities closest to the Ports face greater public health impacts than those farther away,” reads the statement of Clean Air Action Plan’s (CAAP) public health section, which was released in July 2017, updated and approved by the city last month. According to the CAAP, those living around the Los Angeles-Long Beach Harbor pay visits to the asthma-related emergency room at a greater frequency than those living elsewhere in Los Angeles.

Urban farming has also been used as a solution to the toxic food produce crisis in China. In 2014, the Chinese government revealed that 5 percent of its arable land contains levels of toxins that exceed national standards. According to the World Bank, China’s farmers use 4.5 times more fertilizers per hectare (2.4 acres) of arable land than farmers in North America. Yang Qichang, the Director of The Institute of Environment and Sustainable Development in Agriculture at The Chinese Academy Of Agricultural Services (CAAS) believes that by using vertical urban farms, farmers can do away with the need for pesticides and use less chemical fertilizers, producing safer food.