On Spring is One Branch of an Urban Green Movement

Tiffany Swift

On Spring is a locally sourced café, urban garden and community learning space, nestled on the edge of Chinatown in the Los Angeles State Historic Park. Just opened in June, On Spring is an intriguing example of sustainable business and non-profits working towards the same goals.

On Spring is the latest project of social entrepreneur, Rickey Smith, and a part of his larger organization, Urban Green. Described by Smith as a “hospitality lifestyle company revolved around sustainability,” Urban Green is made up of a zero-waste catering business, a line of organic baked goods, and now the café at On Spring.

Smith believes that non-profits need to evolve and explains that he “started this for-profit company just to pay for my non-profit activities.” So Smith devotes 10% of profits from Urban Green (the LLC) to fund the non-profit arm, Urban Green Group Foundation. After ten years of building the business, Smith is putting this vision on display at On Spring. Starting in August, Urban Green Group Foundation will begin screening films and holding workshops on urban gardening, yoga, craft skills and more. On Mondays, the café will be closed to customers and operate as a food bank that serves the same fresh, nutritious food.

The beauty of Urban Green is the way the different properties are woven together into a sort of ecosystem. The café is surrounded by raised garden beds, which will eventually supply organic produce for the café. Out in Rancho Cucamonga, Urban Green operates a citrus farm that grows organic fruit for the baked goods. At Urban Green’s Pasadena headquarters, the treats, sandwiches, and salads are prepared and sent out to retail partners and catered events. Waste from headquarters’ kitchens and bakery make their way into the high quality compost that feeds the garden at On Spring, and the citrus farm in Rancho Cucamonga. Soon this “gourmet compost” will be sold at Whole Foods under the brand Cultivate. Meanwhile Urban Green Group Foundation will educate the community on skills that encourage sustainable living and the development of local micro enterprises.

Smith’s longterm goal for Urban Green is to create green spaces from unused urban lots up and down the west coast. Currently he is working with developers in downtown LA to install green roofs and edible gardens, and lease back the land for a small scale café, following the model tested with On Spring. For the city known for smog and a concrete paved river, Urban Green’s mission couldn’t come at a better time. Los Angeles is ripe for more natural beauty, more community gathering spaces, and more lessons in leading a sustainable life.

Visit On Spring: 1279 North Spring Street, Los Angeles, CA   
Open Tuesday to Friday 7 am – 3 pm, Saturday 10 am – 3 pm