An entrepreneur since the age of 13, when she and her sister started a mail order business serving the recycled auto parts industry. Their careers began in the family’s auto dismantling yard sweeping up, where they designed a part hanger that became de rigueur in the industry and put themselves through college with the proceeds.
Going away to college led to a passion for food and entertaining. A two and a half decade career in hospitality which led Ms. Johnson from the dish room to the dining room with a stint in the kitchen that lasted 10 years, cooking on the line for great chefs at Los Angeles landmarks such as Scandia Restaurant and the Century Plaza Hotel. The next iteration of glitzy nights in special events industry left her days free to begin her true passion of growing the delicious produce that would end up on the table.
After years of studying horticulture, designing and maintaining kitchen gardens - the opportunity to build and operate an Urban Agriculture Education Center was presented in 2009. The Spring Street Farm Project was created on an empty lot to mitigate blight is now a verdant oasis in the city of Long Beach. Built entirely by at-risk youth as a part of the Workforce Development Green Jobs Program, it is now an outdoor classroom, weekly farm stand, and 1 acre working farm.
Kelli also founded the California Heights Farmers Market, a Knight Foundation funded community event which ran for 52 consecutive Sundays. There is a currently grass roots effort to make the market a permanent part of the business improvement plan for the historic neighborhood’s shopping district.
After many councils, coalitions, and community organizing, running kitchens, farms and farmers markets it has become clear to Ms. Johnson that the future health of our society will depend on responsible stewardship of resources, our ability to reconnect with our agricultural roots and create a local food economy where residents are empowered to grow food for their families or to start businesses that serve the local food system.
As current Co-Chair of the Kaiser Funded HEAL zone, Kelli developed the School Farm Stand Project. The weekly a pop-up farm stand sells local fruits and vegetables to the students, parents and neighbors at North Long Beach elementary schools. Wildly successful in it’s pilot season, the program will expand in 2015.