Americans cultivate an estimated 18,000 community gardens, and now more of their growing is taking place in city lots and building rooftops. Urban gardeners see numerous benefits, from a heightened sense of empowerment to a lighter grocery bill to lowered crime rates. Yet challenges to such projects inevitably spring up like crab grass. Read more
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New York Times columnist Roger Cohen says that organic food is elitist, and assumes that the only people who demand healthy, pesticide-free food are well-off Whole Foods shoppers. Well, I don’t know how else to put it: he’s wrong.
All across the country—in Baltimore, Cleveland, Detroit, Oakland, Milwaukee, and New York, just to name a few—residents of low-income neighborhoods have rallied to get healthy food into their communities. There are hundreds of nonprofits dedicated to building organic gardens in peoples’ backyards, teaching inner-city kids how to cook nutritious meals, or boosting fresh produce in corner stores.
In Oregon, Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon (EMO), has been a pioneer of food justice. For over 15 years, the association’s Interfaith Food & Farms Partnership (IFFP) has helped churches, synagogues, Muslim community centers, and Hindu temples source healthy, organic food from local farms. Read more
“This feels like Christmas!” says the woman at the front of the line as she tucks eggs, milk, large orange carrots, and a loaf of whole wheat bread into her sweatshirt. It’s Friday in Turlock, California, grocery day for those who are served by the United Samaritan Foundation’s fleet of Daily Bread Mobile Food Trucks. Anyone can get lunch Monday-Friday at the fleet of four’s 42 stops in nine different nearby towns, and grocery bag Fridays help families make it through the weekend. If you’re low on the funds, transportation can be hard to pay for and difficult to maneuver. If you’re hungry, making it into town for a meal at your standard soup kitchen can become an all-day affair. Food trucks meet the hungry on their turf. Read more
On December 11, the Detroit City Council approved the sale of public land to the controversial Hantz Farms, now called Hantz Woodlands urban forestry project, in Detroit’s eastside neighborhood. The deal confirms the sale of 140 acres of public land at the extraordinarily cheap price of eight cents per square foot ($300 per lot). The land sold at below market price at a time when Detroit is desperate for revitalization and business investment. This is one of the largest urban land acquisitions in the history of any U.S. city.
Meager conditions on the sale require that John Hantz, a financial services entrepreneur and the private developer behind Hantz Farms, improve the underutilized land by demolishing 50 derelict buildings (some of which are inhabited), clean up and mow overgrown lots, and plant 15,000 hardwood trees. Other cities may not have gone down this route, but in a place like Detroit, where finances are beyond tight, “money talks,” says Rob Anderson, Director of Detroit’s Planning and Development. As a result, many have dubbed the deal between Hantz and the city a “land grab.” Read more
While the rejection of Prop 37 in California has been held by some as proof of the food movement’s immaturity, a lack of rhetorical and ideological cohesion is not necessarily the food movement’s biggest problem. Grassroots efforts across the country have successfully bolstered independent sections of the food system, from small farm incubators to mobile farm stands, but there’s one piece that still remains glaringly absent: infrastructure. Without well-developed and well-financed networks and institutions to build upon, advocates for strong local and regional food systems find it difficult to connect from one end of the supply chain to the other.
That’s where local governments can come in. Small business owners, farmers, distributors, restaurateurs, and eaters develop innovative strategies to strengthen their respective segments of the local food chain, and municipalities can support this process by creating links down the line and increasing opportunities for food system purveyors to work together.
The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) has developed a comprehensive regional plan that includes resources and tools for local governments to support local food. Hot on the heels of the plan’s adoption, CMAP is eager to make the case that a strong local food system benefits all residents in the seven-county area, particularly from an economic perspective. They are currently in the process of helping governments develop food system-friendly codes and ordinances in order to enable more momentum in the public sector. Read more
Much like the rest of the country, community gardens in Athens, Georgia sprouted up everywhere in the last decade, some with iffy hopes of survival.
Successes here include: a beautiful edible landscape around a resource center for the elderly; an abandoned lot in an African American neighborhood where a grey-haired gardener scares off drug dealers with collard plants; and a resident-run garden in a hip neighborhood where homemade tomato cages poke up on public land.
In one low-income Hispanic neighborhood in a culturally segregated trailer park outside of town, a garden put in place by horticulture student volunteers from the University of Georgia didn’t fare as well, at least in its first seasons. As a newspaper reporter and farming enthusiast, I watched this garden’s early growth with both hope and worry. Many of my friends who lived in this mobile home park had worked hard to drum up awareness of it in the neighborhood, and initial interest looked promising. Read more
Residents of South Carolina’s Lowcountry know that the area’s vibrant culture and scenic beauty constitute something special, something that represents more than the group of counties contained within its geographic perimeter.
Jamee Haley, executive director of Lowcountry Local First (LLF), recognizes that the unique character of the state’s southernmost region depends as much on the health of the economy as it does on the creative pursuits and hard work of the people who live there. Whether in the world of agriculture or business, she works to inspire those who share her appreciation for and dedication to their local communities to make a simple decision: “Choose the Lowcountry.”
From this request stem the organizations two primary initiatives, Eat Local and Buy Local. Read more
Just a few years ago there were but a smattering of “networks that allow regional growers to collaborate on marketing and distribution,” as Grist writer Claire Thompson observed, “networks that include a broad range of operations, from multi-farm CSAs to Craigslist-like virtual markets where buyers and producers can connect.”
Today, news stories about such food hubs are as frequent as a retweeted Mark Bittman article. With a big-tent definition, the USDA lists over 160 in operation from non-profits to private for-profit models. The East Coast is in the vanguard; New York, Virginia, North Carolina, and Vermont host the most. More remarkable than their media-worthy increase in numbers, is that food hubs are a wonderful example of the best face of the food movement’s transition beyond an earlier focus on labeling, markets, and matters of quantity, toward broader cultural issues of justice, sovereignty, and community. Read more
Abeni Ramsey started growing food in her West Oakland backyard when she was a college-aged single mom who wanted her kids to eat better food than what they could afford. Some seven years later, she’s well known among the Bay Area food community, selling produce from her business, City Girl Farms, to local restaurants and through a community-supported agriculture (CSA) program. Now she plans to open an urban farm store and restaurant in Oakland, and is working with a partner to start farming on 220 acres about an hour outside the Bay Area. I caught up with Ramsey recently to learn more about her involvement in the local food movement and her plans for the future. Read more
As our ailing agricultural landscape continues to face pressure from man and nature alike, the learning curve to figure out how to take care of the country’s farmland is steep. For the youngest generation of farmers, many of whom are stepping foot in the field for the first time, the risks of the agriculture industry, from drought to debt, can easily spell failure for their emerging operations.
Georgia Organics, a non-profit with over 1,200 community members dedicated to promoting sustainable agricultural practices in the state, offers a wide array of services to support the often-tumultuous transition to farm life. The organization’s farmer-to-farmer mentoring program provides new and emerging farmers with the opportunity to learn how to tackle uncertainty and challenges from the people who understand the business best–other farmers. By providing a resource that allows information to flow from one generation of farmers to the next, Georgia Organics helps newer farmers grow while letting older farmers give back. Read more