Urban Farming: A Local Food Revolution

>> Thursday, May 8, 2008

Excellent example of how ingenuity and necessity come together to turn unused, wasted space into a healthy money making venture.

From the Urban Farmers’ file: cultivated plots are appearing in the least likely of places, such as a New York City vacant asphalt-covered ball field. A community group called East New York Farms sold fruits and vegetables grown by locals in small plots within their own neighborhoods. Last year the group sold more than $25,000 in goods.

A nonprofit project in Philadelphia grows salad greens in a half-acre plot and sells them locally raising $67,000 last year.

The Milwaukee nonprofit, Growing Power, grossed over $220,000 from a one acre farm selling lettuces, winter greens, sprouts and fish to local restaurants and consumers.

Local nonprofits have been providing land, training and financial encouragement in urban areas of Detroit, Oakland, Milwaukee and other cities and those people who have the courage to exhibit their ‘farmers gene’ are making it work.

This is a great illustration of how locals working through community groups in cooperation with local governments can raise awareness of where our food comes from, how food is grown, develop the entrepreneurial spirit as well as teaching self-sufficiency.

The fact that many of these city-farmers want to raise their produce organically is very encouraging. It shows that our tolerance for chemical fertilizers and pesticides is fading to the point that people who rarely garden are not falling for their false promises. City composting programs are helping too. Trucking home decomposed leaves from the Starrett City development in Brooklyn and ZooDoo from the Bronx Zoo’s manure composting program is helping teach healthy habits for maintaining a healthy environment.

This whole process is cultivating pride in their community which is a priceless commodity.

Attitudes toward urban farming have come a long way. John Ameroso, a Cornell Cooperative Extension agent who has worked with local farmers and gardeners for 32 years, said that when he first suggested urban farm stands in the early 1990s, city environmental officials dismissed the idea. ‘Oh, you could never grow enough stuff with the urban markets,’ he said he was told. ‘That can’t be done. You have to have farmers.’

Holly Leicht, an associate assistant commissioner at the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development, helped provide two half-acre parcels of city land last year. One became Hands and Hearts and the other is in Ocean Hill-Brownsville, Brooklyn.

With more training and incentive programs like the Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program, a supplement to the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) and senior nutrition programs urban farming is bringing food closer to our tables. It not only tastes better, it saves huge amounts of oil, keeps money in your local economy, and makes us less vulnerable to large-scale food contamination. Eating local is the easiest way to eliminate suspect food from your diet. It's also the easiest way to cut processed foods with added fat and sugar out of your diet, since you'll be buying more fresh fruits and vegetables.

Urban farming, such as these small-scale isolated examples, is a part of the growing phenomena of the local food revolution. But, small-scale isolated examples is exactly what the local food revolution is about.

In the last 10 years, interest in eating local has exploded, whether you count the growth in farmers' markets (roughly 3,800 nationwide, more than twice the number a decade ago); membership in Slow Food U.S.A. (13,000 members and 145 chapters just since 2000), the American arm of an international movement to defend our collective “right to taste” as well as local specialty food producers who bring us distinctive flavors; or the number of schools stocking their cafeterias with fresh food raised by nearby farmers (400 school districts in 22 states, in addition to dozens of colleges and universities).

It’s a winning situation for the environment and inner city dwellers.

For further information:

New York Times article

Urban Farming

City Farms

Urban Jungle

Beyond the Bar Code: The Local Food Revolution


Kate May 11, 2008 at 11:49 PM  

People are sick of waiting for governments and they taking responsibilty for their own health and lives by doing some of these great things you have highlighted here Greg. It is wonderful to see.

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