Posts Tagged ‘Urban Farming’

Photo Essay: What’s Growing in West Virginia’s Urban Ruins?

Oh, my goodness, this is a great, encouraging article about Wheeling, WV, another Rust Belt town turning to urban farming as a way of rejuvenating the city, the land and its people. My favorite sentences from the article include:

“But some seniors who live in buildings like Montani Towers are still trying to figure out this ‘group of hippies.’ One woman saw the words ‘Fair Trade’ on a poster advertising some of the imported items sold at Grow Ohio Valley’s mobile market and tried to barter her folding chairs for sweet corn.

So Swan and his colleagues have been going door-to-door to explain that none of this is radical. It’s the same kind of farming that older Ohio Valley residents remember from their youth. And if some of that agriculture returns, it could bring some of Wheeling’s spark back.

Already, there’s more fresh food and young people in the area. If the teaching farm takes off, there will be more growth. More business. More life.

Bill Hogan, 85, believed the sales pitch so much that he convinced the board of the local Schenk Foundation to underwrite Grow Ohio Valley’s start-up costs. He says it’s the first time in decades that he’s felt excited about the prospects for his hometown.

“It’s just refreshing. It’s a whole new culture — a whole new attitude. You’ve got people eating healthy food. There’s young people coming back into the area now — two of them my own grandnieces. It’s like a renaissance. A rebirth,” he said.”

Read the full photo essay here.





Waking Times ~ Across the US, Cities Struggle to Figure Out How to Accommodate Urban Farming

This topic was also an issue during Goshen’s Comprehensive Plan meetings, as many local people here want to protect and encourage more local, organic farming (and gardening). Anyone interested in seeing more local food options, especially in food deserts, might want to give this article and its associated links a good perusal, as the more informed and creative we all get, the more likely we will find ways to bring healthy, local, organic food closer to home.

Across the US, Cities Struggle to Figure Out How to Accommodate Urban Farming

Urban FarmingSena Christian, Earth Island Journal
Waking Times

Widespread interest in urban agriculture is forcing local authorities to re-examine rules that prohibit farming in cities…

Sacramento has worked diligently over the past two years to brand itself as America’s farm-to-fork capital, hosting local food festivals, wine tastings, and gala dinners featuring the city’s premier chefs. Tickets for this year’s dinner, at $175 dollars each, sold out in five minutes. The Sacramento Convention and Visitors Bureau has even organized a cattle drive and tractor parade through downtown.

Sure, nearly 1.4 million acres of farmland exist around the city, which is located in California’s vast and fertile Central Valley region, and the climate is amenable to growing produce year-round (drought complications notwithstanding). But there are no urban farms in Sacramento. The closest and most prominent urban farm, the 55-acre Soil Born Farms, exists outside the city limits.

Sacramento is relatively progressive when it comes to gardening: The city already allows frontyard vegetable gardens, urban chickens, and community gardens on private land and runs 13 community gardens on public land. But farming – that is, growing crops to sell – has fallen behind.

In response to urging from the Sacramento Urban Agriculture Coalition – which went so far as to draft its own proposed urban agriculture ordinance – the city may amend its municipal code to clear the way for residents interested in growing and selling produce by allowing farming as a primary land use in all zones, not only agricultural: that includes residential, commercial, and industrial.

The city has proposed an urban agriculture ordinance that would allow the cultivation of crops in residential areas up to 1 acre in size, in commercial areas up to 3 acres, and in industrial areas with no size restriction. Produce stands, greenhouses, and hoop-houses would be allowed, while mechanized farm equipment such as tractors would be prohibited after initial site preparation. The ordinance would also create an incentive zone providing reduced property taxes for agricultural plots.

But the urban agriculture coalition members were taken aback during a recent planning and design commission meeting when they learned that the city’s proposal would limit produce sales from these farms to areas where agriculture was the “primary use.” People who grow at homes, schools, or churches – where farming would be the “secondary use” – would have to get a permit, limiting the only easy option to vacant lots.

By all means let’s beautify those lots, says coalition facilitator Katie Valenzuela Garcia, but allowing produce to be sold right where it’s grown, even if that’s as a secondary use of the site, is critical for residents of food deserts. Doing otherwise defeats the purpose. “That’s the critical connection we have to make – for people struggling with food access – that (produce) is near where they live, where they’re walking, where their children are going to school,” Garcia said at the meeting.

Urban farming is considered critical to eliminating food deserts in American cities and making produce more accessible to the 14.3 percent of households that were food insecure last year, according to the US Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service. The USDA defines food deserts as “urban neighborhoods and rural towns without ready access to fresh, healthy, and affordable food.” An estimated 23.5 million people in the United States, mostly belonging to low-income families, live in food deserts. Considering 81 percent of Americans are urbanites, growing food in urban areas seems like common sense.

Some cities such as PortlandCleveland, and San Francisco, have successfully implemented policies, amended ordinances, or offered tax breaks to encourage urban farming, while others are figuring out whether they can accommodate this practice.

What good are urban farms? The Sacramento Urban Agriculture Coalition has counted the ways in which these farms serve the public: They create jobs, alleviate hunger, reduce food waste, improve public health, create economic opportunities, and beautify neighborhoods. Despite these obvious benefits, many cities and towns across the United States are still struggling to figure out how, and if, they should change local laws in order to facilitate farming in urban areas.

Elizabeth Patton-Whiteside, a registered nurse, was at her job as the public health administrator for the East Side Health District in East St. Louis, IL a few years ago when a crazy idea kept popping into her head as she peered out the office window at a weeded lot. “I kept looking out and said, ‘We could do something with this lot,’” she says. “I envisioned a farm, a teaching garden really.”

With the city’s help, which granted her a special use permit, she launched the F.R.E.S.H. Community Teaching Garden on a half-acre with 28 raised garden beds, three herb gardens, fruit trees, and an outdoor classroom. Neighbors who work the garden beds get to take home produce and additional fruits and veggies are sold at the farmers market that has opened onsite to sustain the program. “Our mission is to teach people how to plant it, harvest it, cook it, and can it,” Patton-Whiteside says. “That’s our way of combating the hunger, because we are a food desert.”

East. St. Louis has a poor, predominantly African-American population and ranks among the most violent US cities. Nearly 44 percent of the 27,000 residents live below the poverty line and the median household income is $19,278. Vacant lots and run-down buildings litter the landscape.

“By incorporating the children’s play area, walking trail, flower garden, and art, it became more than just a ‘farm,’” Patton-Whiteside says. “My city is devoid of art and beauty. That is why those aspects were in the design. I enhanced the landscape of the community.”

Meanwhile, the City of Boulder, CO has opted to support local agriculture by making some of its roughly 45,000 acres of open space – used to buffer Boulder from nearby development – available to operators.

Boulder’s Open Space and Mountain Parks Department leases nearly 15,000 acres to 25 farm operators and one beekeeper, according to OSMP Agricultural Specialist Lauren Kolb. Most is rangeland for cow/calf operations. The rest goes to row crops, diversified vegetable production, and hay.

“The lessees manage weeds, administer water rights, and employ practices that ensure the productivity of the land for years to come,” Kolb says. “Without OSMP buying properties and conservation easements, our current farmland would look similar to the sprawling development that characterizes much of the Front Range.”

The department’s first lease for organic vegetable production was given to Cure Organic Farm, located a few miles outside the city. The city leased 8 acres of its land to the 12-acre farm, which grows 100 varieties of vegetables, herbs, and flowers, and raises bees, ducks, hens, pigs, chicken, and sheep. All the crops from the farm find a home within 50 miles – through CSA boxes, restaurants, farmers markets, and a farm store.

“Location is everything when you start a business,” says Anne Cure, who runs the farm. “Boulder is a hub when it comes to eating healthy.” Being situated so close to downtown means this land would likely cost a few million dollars to buy, she says, which she can’t afford.

However, not all cities have recognized the value of agriculture near urban centers.

In Santa Fe, NM for instance, the organic Gaia Gardens, on 3.5-acres of leased land in a residential enclave, has angered some neighbors and been cited repeatedly for code violations. Attempts to resolve this dilemma have stalled.

The Santa Fe New Mexican newspaper published an editorial in June condemning the city for failing to act on the matter: “Regardless of how the Gaia saga plays out, the city needs to let residents know where it stands. The absence of a concrete, citywide policy sends a message of indifference to would-be urban farmers and their would-be customers.”

The City of Austin, TX too, has been struggling to figure out just what message to send residents who want to farm. Factions have sprung up on both sides of the issue, with those opposed arguing that urban farming will exacerbate an affordable housing crisis in one of the fastest-growing cities in the country.

“Our civic leaders have their hands full facing many challenges with that growth,” says Paula Foore, who founded the 4.83-acre Springdale Farm near downtown Austin with her husband in 2009. “And with urban farms being relatively new on the scene, although not that new, we have been bogged down trying to be compliant with new city codes as well old codes, many that do not support the divergent functions that take place on urban farms.”

While Austin allows urban farming in all zones, Springdale Farm has been battling the city for two years over the right to host functions. The farm is commercially zoned but a “conditional overlay” on the property prohibits gatherings, so the couple has sunk money and energy into zoning applications, permits, and attorneys. “We continue to meet with our civic leaders to discuss the kind of community hub that is the very core of what urban farms are, and to define the scope of activities that it takes to keep an urban farm thriving,” Foore says.

Back in Sacramento, Garcia says one big wrinkle to iron out before the City Council votes on the proposal later this year relates to where locally grown food can be sold. Her coalition wants to see the ordinance make growing and selling allowed at all plots – not limited to areas where agriculture is the primary use, such as vacant lots.

“We are also concerned with residential lot growing, community gardens, and institutional – schools, churches – gardens,” Garcia says. “Our main objective is to make as much as possible ‘by-right,’ meaning folks do not have to get conditional use or other permits, which can be very costly and time consuming, if they want to grow or sell produce.”

That, she says, is the only way to truly close the gap between residents who are hungry and the healthy food they want to consume.

About the Author

Sena Christian is a newspaper reporter in California, but enjoys writing about social justice and sustainability for magazines in her free time. She is an avid soccer player and recently planted her first vegetable garden.

DIY Food Department: Urban Gardens Deepen and Diversify

I love this! It is happening, folks. Get in on the action, wherever you are, however you can. I just read that as of January 1, 2014, the US and Japan are allowed to sell each other’s “organic” produce without labeling origins. Um, Fukushima area has loads of organic farms. Personally, I would prefer to grow my own. You don’t need to have an insanely wild yard that takes all your time to transform into permaculture paradise. You could start with a small plot of square foot gardening, a window garden, community garden space, neighborhood yardshare, or a Garden Tower. With food prices set to skyrocket, you probably won’t get a better return on investment than fresh, free produce grown by you. Next best and equally important? Support your local organic farmers. Buy directly if you can, through CSA’s and at the local farmers market. These folks work so hard to provide us fresh, real food. We need to support them if we want to continue having such options. Bon Appetit!

My March Against Monsanto Speech

What a great speech! Thanks to Kimber for sharing this continuation of Wendell Berry nuggets of wisdom (at the end of the speech). Plenty of left brain details, but wow, this one moves the heart and soul. Definitely worth a read!

Mockingbird Chronicles

My friend Michelle asked whether I would be posting my speech from the March Against Monsanto, so I am going to post it here.

This blog is about me becoming more comfortable in my writer’s skin, about not being snarky and rude to myself about what I write, so I will not be the Teacher with The Red Pen telling you what I think is wrong with this piece.  It’s not bad, really.  Some of it is pretty good, I think.  It’s just that as I wrote it, it didn’t feel inspired.  It didn’t feel world-changing or earth-shaking.  That’s okay with me.  I was happy with how it fit into the story of the day, how it hopefully helped people there to make a connection with a farmer.  I think this piece was sort of like a good friend during the speeches, fitting into the group and helping the…

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Book Review: The Good Food Revolution by Will Allen

A few weeks ago, we enjoyed the privilege of listening to Will Allen, CEO of Growing Power, at the Nanovic Institute’s “The Future of Food” Symposium. On our way back from lunch, David and I got the chance to speak privately with Will, so we decided to buy his book and have him sign it. I expected to learn about urban farming and community outreach, but little did I know how riveting I’d find “The Good Food Revolution“!

I’ve lost track of how many diverse people I’ve suggested to read this book — just in the past week! Not only does Will share the expected tips about composting and working with urban youth, but “The Good Food Revolution” offers an in-depth history of: sharecropping, the Great Migration, African American culture, family farms, agriculture, family life, country and urban living, and professional basketball. Will tells his family’s story and left me wanting to know his mother, father and grandmother, as well as the white woman who rented them his childhood home. Although he addresses racism head-on, this book –and Growing Power — act as bridges between cultures, and Will himself embodies that inclusiveness. Rather than preaching color blindness, “The Good Food Revolution” masterfully highlights each person’s humanity. Race becomes a factor, but we see, through Will, each person as an individual who has a unique story and special gifts to share.

With the help of author Charles Wilson, Will interweaves folk wisdom and nostalgia with relationships and personal stories that had me literally laughing out loud and sobbing at various points in the narrative. On several occasions, I needed to put down the book so I could dry my tears and let the information settle in my heart. He gives us intimate glimpses into so many people’s lives –often shared in their own words — and lets their stories bring history and facts to life. At no point does this book feel didactic, although I never stopped learning from first page to last. The delicate way he reveals the growth of certain “characters” like Karen Parker and her two children, DeShell and DeShawn, often reads more like a page-turning novel than a treatise on “Growing Healthy Food, People, and Communities.”

Towards the end of the book, Will shares insights into running non-profit and for-profit businesses, including examples of people who trained at Growing Power. His inclusiveness extends beyond race and his “Rainbow Coalition” of farmers, right into the corporate world and government. He finds ways to work with places like the corporation that provides all Milwaukee school lunches, Walmart, Kohl’s Department Stores, many local businesses who donate waste for compost, as well as federal and local government initiatives. Like many people, I have a knee-jerk reaction to corporations and government. Although I know we need to engage those in power if we wish to change them, part of me still recoils at direct collaboration. Will uses the same skills that allow him to recognize the humanity in each individual in order to recognize and honor corporate or government desire to make positive contributions. I was shocked to learn “that Walmart was launching a new initiative intended to increase the amount of local food it bought by 2015 to 9 percent. This is not insignificant, especially for a company with Walmart’s buying power. The average American eats less than 1 percent of his or her food from local sources.”

I cannot recommend this book highly enough. “The Good Food Revolution” offers a positive vision for an abundant future of off-grid living and local food, of inner city regeneration and the return of self-respect and sustainability to the nearly decimated profession and lifestyle of small farmers. I love listening to Will Allen speak and expected an inspirational book, but if Will had been a professional baseball player instead of a basketball star, I’d say he knocked this one out of the park. I know I’ll be savoring and digesting the lessons of “The Good Food Revolution” for a long time.

“The Future of Food: Urban Bio-Economies in Europe and America” at the Nanovic Institute

David and I are excited to attend a symposium on Wednesday, May 8 at Notre Dame: “The Future of Food: Urban Bio-Economies in Europe and America.” We’re especially excited to see Will Allen of Growing Power, as well as Ron Finley of LA Green Grounds.

“6ft 7 inch former professional basketball player Will Allen is now one of the most influential leaders of the food security & urban farming movement. His farm and not-for-profit, Growing Power, have trained and inspired people in every corner of the US to start growing food sustainably. This man and his organization go beyond growing food. They provide a platform for people to share knowledge and form relationships in order to develop alternatives to the industrial food system.Will Allen works with at-risk urban youth, helping them learn farming skills for a more positive life trajectory and food system “that works for everybody.” On Wednesday he’ll talk about “The Good Food Revolution.” You can meet him in this video introduction to Growing Power:

“Ron Finley plants vegetable gardens in South Central LA — in abandoned lots, traffic medians, along the curbs. Why? For fun, for defiance, for beauty and to offer some alternative to fast food in a community where ‘the drive-thrus are killing more people than the drive-bys.'” On Wednesday, he’ll be talking about “The New Urban Food Forest,” but you might enjoy his talk here about food deserts and what we can do about them:

Future of Food Nanovic Institute

(You can click on the flyer above and then click again to view it full-size.)

Here’s the Nanovic Institute’s event description:

With a grant from the European Union Delegation to the United States, the Nanovic Institute for European Studies invites you to celebrate Europe Day by attending a symposium to be held on Wednesday, May 8, 2013, entitled “The Future of Food: Urban Bio-Economies in Europe and America.” The event (with the exception of lunch) is free and open to the public.

The purpose of this convivial event is to gather farmers, chefs, restaurateurs, policy-makers, academics, and members of our wider community to discuss new developments in urban food systems. As we know, the world’s population is now more urban than rural, a shift that has had enormous effects on food production and distribution. When it comes to feeding urban areas, what are the most pressing problems, ingenious approaches, and sustainable new practices?

Lunch will be a very special Farmers Market feast, sourced entirely from local farmers and purveyors and designed especially by Chef Don Miller, Notre Dame Food Service Executive Chef.

[Note from Laura: Registration for the luncheon buffet ended on May 1, but the event is still free and open to the public. This is a phenomenal gathering of great speakers, community outreach, visionaries and people embodying the idea that “the problem is the solution.” I feel passionate about food security and and food as a social justice issue, so I’m really looking forward to gathering and brainstorming more ideas to implement at the local level. Please join us if you can!]

Urban Farming Guidebook

There’s a new resource out to support local governments and food growers (or potential growers) to create urban resources for local food. If you click here, you can read about it and even download a free PDF for you and/or your local government. I’ve already forwarded the link to someone we know on the Goshen Town Council, as we would love to see edible landscaping and additional local food resources around town.

The link above will land you on Milkwood Farm’s permaculture blog from Down Under — an inspiring resource with info on tiny houses, community farming, mushroom cultivation, and all sorts of wonderful eco-adventures. Enjoy!