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

The surprise darling of the Community Food Security Coalition conference last May was a little-known city councilman from Cleveland. He spoke fervently about his city, a city of flourishing community gardens, backyard bee hives, and chicken coops, a city where all farmers’ markets accept food stamps, where schools get discounts for sourcing local food, and where both trans-fats and smoking on playgrounds are banned. His name? Joe Cimperman.

A 4th term Democratic city councilman whose parents hail from Slovenia, Cimperman is a vocal advocate of community gardens, which create community and self-sufficiency. He told of coming together with community leaders, public health officials, doctors, and foundations to pass the Healthy Cleveland Initiative — a series of audacious policy goals that will improve the health of Clevelanders for years to come. (That is, if Ohio’s Republican-majority legislature doesn’t pre-emptively squash them.) He ended with this rallying cry: “Why are we in food policy? Because we want our friends to live longer!”

What are Cleveland’s secrets for becoming a food justice utopia? I recently interviewed Cimperman to find out. Read more

Miles Gordon is the Founder and Project Coordinator for The Gardens Project of North Coast Opportunities which he started in 2007 in Ukiah, Mendocino County, California. His inspiration for The Gardens Project began 10 years ago as a result of a local hunger assessment. It revealed that Mendocino County needed more access to food which inspired Miles to help organize the Cleveland Community Garden – now Ukiah’s oldest and largest. As a former teacher who worked with school gardens, Miles noticed that some struggled, competing for resources. He saw a real need for two things: networking existing gardens so they could share resources and expertise while simultaneously, and rapidly, developing access to new gardens.

In the last three years, The Gardens Project has helped develop 16 new gardens and network over 65 in Mendocino County. These include gardens at schools, senior centers and those in the community at large. Miles and his wonderful Americorps VISTA volunteers also work on farmer development and rebuilding the food system on many levels.

CE: What issues have you been focused on?

MG: Empowerment. Read more

San Francisco is a-buzz with support for growing food within city limits: from the Mayor’s Executive Directive, “Healthy and Sustainable Food for San Francisco” [PDF] to the large groups of volunteers showing up weekly to sheet mulch underutilized lots. But who makes up this urban agriculture movement? How do they work together and what can help San Francisco become a role-model city for a sustainable food system?

On Tuesday, March 9th approximately fifty of the city’s gardeners, urban farmers, beekeepers, and strong allies met to pose and answer questions like these in hopes to develop cooperation between the different groups that make up San Francisco’s urban agriculture movement. Read more

February 11, 2010: I’m sitting on the terrace of my temporary home in Rio, Casa Amarelinha in the Santa Teresa neighborhood of Rio de Janeiro, feeling remotely cool for the first time in over a week. It’s been hard to think much in this heat—we’ve been topping 110 degrees regularly this past week, in one of the worst heat waves Rio has seen in recent memory (to exacerbate what has been an unusually hot summer all around), with about 75% humidity. When the mercury rises to about 90 back in New York, everyone retreats into their air conditioned offices and apartments or flees to the beach or countryside. But here in Rio, life in the streets goes on in full force, despite the blazing sun. I am so grateful it does, for what life courses through the streets of this city! However, the oppressive weather has made my volunteer work challenging to bear, even for a seasoned farm gal. Read more

It’s obvious that Tricycle Gardens is the beating heart of Richmond, Virginia’s sustainable food movement. The 501c(3) touches every area of the local food system. Community gardens rise up out of vacant lots. Teachers appear at schools and community centers to teach kids about gardening and eating veggies, and classes on gardening and food preservation for adults are held regularly. Potlucks bring Richmonders together to eat local, seasonal produce. The success stories are numerous, with many more to come. So how and why has Tricycle Gardens succeeded in a city whose history and social landscape provide significant obstacles to progress in food justice? Read more

Jeffery Betcher was clear — he and his fellow organizers consider themselves community, not food, activists. Betcher, co-founder of the successful Quesada Gardens Initiative in the Bayview Hunters Point Neighborhood of San Francisco, was joined by fellow co-founder and board co-vice chair James Ross as featured presenters at Kitchen Table Talks’ third installment: Community Organizing: Addressing Food Access and Security in Bayview Hunters Point.

For decades, Bayview Hunters Point (BVHP) has been much maligned for regular reports of violence, environmental hazards and poverty. Betcher, a 10-year BVHP resident, believes the neighborhood doesn’t deserve its negative reputation. It has many strengths, including the highest rate of residential property ownership in the entire city, and many of its residents are thriving despite enormous environmental and economic injustices. Read more

I recently organized an event at a small Methodist church in Cedar Grove, North Carolina: the newly-minted Bishop’s Task Force on Food.  The meeting was comprised of fourteen farmers, theologians, pastors, community gardeners, and one ex-Special Forces soldier-turned-food activist named Stan. Stan’s newest tactical mission: getting churches involved in the sustainable food fight, which is why I invited him along to join us. Read more

Last week, I sat riveted at the Horticultural Society of New York while watching a screening of the 2008 Oscar-nominated documentary, The Garden, a tour de force that pits a 14-acre community garden in South Central Los Angeles, run by mostly Latin American immigrants, against a wealthy developer with questionable city ties. A powerful treatise on power and racial discord, The Garden tells the story of farmers who organize to fight back against backroom deals to try and save their green urban oasis. [spoiler alert] Read more

Yesterday at Columbia University, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer hosted a conference entitled “The Politics of Food,” which he called New York’s next policy challenge.   Stringer is known for his work paving the way for better health in East Harlem, and for the Go Green East Harlem Cookbook, a bilingual guide that is available free of cost to East Harlem residents.  Sounding like Michael Pollan, he recognized that so many issues, from health, to energy, to environment all dealt with food in some way.  So it was his goal, he said, to create a Food Charter for New York, based on community-oriented plans brought to scale. Read more