Small-scale farming isn’t easy. The prices farmers receive for their goods are often low, the margins are tight, the days are long, and the chores never-ending. For farmers who don’t own their own property, land insecurity compounds financial instability. It’s tough to really dig in if you don’t know how long you can stay on the piece you’re farming. Read more
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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
Practitioners of urban agriculture have a lot to be proud of, including forming part of a “food movement,” which is increasing in size and influence. People are questioning food systems conventions and the dominant forms of food production (industrial farming) and distribution (globalized trade) are being opposed more and more by communities around the globe. Urban agriculturists—with their claim for a viable alternative to the broken food system—seem to have at this moment a certain cultural cachet.
This is reflected in the attention urban farmers have garnered in the New York Times, Washington Post, and many other media outlets. It can be seen in the plethora of food movement documentaries like Food, Inc., Edible City, and Growing Cities. The idea of farming as a viable city activity has been further bolstered by initiatives like the White House garden. The founder of urban farming organization Growing Power, Will Allen, was even given the MacArthur “Genius” Award in 2008, in what some might pinpoint as the point of arrival for urban agriculture as a social force in the United States.
But there is an aspect of urban agriculture (UA) that is often overlooked: Economic and social class dynamics. Read more
President Obama has made the community college system a centerpiece of his education agenda, pushing for more resources and talking up their benefits. A community college grad myself, I checked in with a few of my community college friends to see how the good food movement is playing out on their campuses. Read more
When I buy a cookbook, I am always drawn to the pictures. When I read a non-fiction book, I want a good story. American Grown, by First Lady Michelle Obama, is both–it’s an interesting hybrid of a gardening, cooking and history book, chronicling the story of the White House Garden, the importance of growing and eating fresh food. Read more
The worst drought since the 1950s continues to wreak havoc on America’s bread basket, shriveling up commodity corn and soybean crops and driving up food prices. But there is heartening news from the local agricultural sector: Farmers’ markets are booming.
Last week, the USDA released its annual update of the National Farmers Market Directory*, which is now 7,864 markets strong. It’s a 9.6 percent uptick since last year, and more than double the number of markets since 2004. Read more
Last month urban agriculture advocates in San Francisco got another piece of legislation to celebrate. City government once again came out to support the growing of food within this dense city, this time by mandating that an “urban agriculture program” be organized. The program will help coordinate existing programs within and between city agencies that touch food production (including the Recreation and Parks Department’s community gardens, the Department of the Environment’s urban orchard work, and the Public Utilities Commission’s water-saving education efforts), as well as look into new ways to expand and improve urban agriculture opportunities (including an audit of city-owned rooftops with potential for gardens or beekeeping; the development of incentives for private landowners to lease undeveloped land to urban ag projects; and–perhaps most importantly–the creation of materials resource centers, where urban agriculturists of all sorts can find the compost, mulch, and materials needed to successfully grow more food).
As a co-coordinator for the SF Urban Agriculture Alliance, a grassroots volunteer group supporting local urban agriculture projects and their respective goals, I am happy that we not only achieved the passage of such legislation, but achieved a more difficult goal: funding for the program. In these days of austerity and endless cuts, our members’ advocacy, and the support of particular city Supervisors (in particular, David Chiu, the legislation’s sponsor, and John Avalos, chair of the Budget committee) were crucial to ensuring that the program would not just exist on paper. The budgeting process is a complex and mystifying beast, but we tamed it, and came out with $120,000 for implementation of the program in the coming fiscal year. Read more
You need not live in an urban area for the Urban Farm Handbook to be useful to you. I admit that I did find myself briefly missing Berkeley’s lovely year-round growing season and generous sunshine as I read about the author’s endeavors in the Pacific Northwest, but then I remembered the price of real estate in the Bay Area and how I never could fully adjust to the reality of earthquakes and the feeling (mostly) passed.
The book features excellent hands-on, detailed instructions for how to do things like grind your own grains, raise chickens and goats, make your own cheese, yogurt, kefir and more, start or join a buying club with friends and neighbors to buy in bulk directly from local farmers, start and maintain your own bee colony, establish a year-round garden, slaughter your own animals, make your own soap, salves and lotion, and build a community of like-minded people doing the same stuff to support you in it. Read more
Lately I’ve been realizing that I married well. Not in the typical, societal ladder, Downton Abbey kind of way. Far from that. More like in a homesteader’s kind of way. Forget investment accounts and family crests, when it comes to spring water, pickles and chicken coops, we are set! And most recently, we hit the jackpot. My husband just landed a job at our local feed store, which in itself doesn’t sound like the most lucrative position, but this isn’t your basic feed store. Read more
Mary Davis started feeling the squeeze of city life about a year ago. She had grown up gardening and spent a stint working on an organic farm while attending grad school in Missouri. Now an architect living in San Francisco’s Mission District, she longed to reconnect with her gardening roots, but her small apartment was lacking in the dirt department. “There was no garden, no outdoors,” she says. “I really wanted a place with some soil.” Read more