On the surface, the benefits of city farming are compound and multifarious. Urban agriculture reduces an area’s carbon footprint while producing healthy, inexpensive and easily accessible food. It inherently promotes community development by addressing social and health issues, like crime, youth empowerment and obesity. Then why is it that urban farming, long thought to be a fringe element of sustainability in this country, has taken a backseat in mainstream media and public discussion to über-green skyscrapers and renewable energy sources – until recently
One of the ironies of the green movement is that, while the industrialized countries strive to technologically achieve a more sustainable future, they often need only look to the examples already set in the developing world. The reason for this is because sustainability is above all a necessity driven by survival. And while we comfortably enjoy high living standards in the West, we lack the raw driving force to attain true sustainability
Take Cuba for example, where city farms and their adjoining markets are one of sustainability’s international success stories. In 1989, with the Soviet Union’s collapse, petrochemical and agricultural imports into this embargoed island nation stopped virtually overnight. Oil, chemical pesticides, fertilizers and animal feed no longer entered the country as Cuba lost 85% of her trade, meaning no money or resources for a hungry population. The government scrambled to sustain an agricultural system of large and remote communal farms that relied heavily on machinery to
produce and distribute the country’s food. Of the many remarkable innovations made during Cuba’s “Special Period”, urban farming rapidly emerged as one viable solution to secure a nation’s food supply on limited resources
Likewise, in a country as vast and diverse as the US, we can also look inward to find homegrown innovations and solutions. On the West Coast, urban farming is gaining steam with the support of green-minded government officials. A crop of grassroots initiatives are also sprouting up in the East, particularly in America’s Rust Belt. Rising food prices and a fresh round of economic woes has sown the seeds for a new crop of urban farming initiatives taking root in places like Minneapolis, Detroit, New York and St. Louis
In Detroit, decades of decline and a troubled automotive industry have resulted in large swaths of vacant city land and a growing underemployed population. Add to that the recent increase in gas and food prices, and the conditions are ripe for a green revolution. Urban Farming , a Detroit-based charity, is replacing vacant lots in American cities with rows of fruits and vegetables, bringing affordable produce with a low environmental impact to those in the neighborhood.
In Milwaukee, Growing Power has put teens to work maintaining greenhouses and growing food for their community since 1993. Now they operate farms across Wisconsin and Illinois. Meanwhile, thanks to Slow Food Nation and Victory Gardens 2008+, the front lawns of San Francisco’s city hall are being transformed into an organic edible garden.
From coast to coast, regardless of the impetus, agriculture in our cities is taking root. So get involved! Chances are there is already a community garden or farm in your vicinity where you can participate or shop. If not, collaborate with your friends and neighbors. Contact one of the non-profits or charities listed below that are operating community gardens in American cities. Here is a sample of American urban farming groups to get you started
- http://www.urbanfarming.org/ (Detroit, Twin Cities, New York, LA…)
- http://www.growingpower.org/ (Milwaukee / Chicago)
- http://www.added-value.org/ (New York)
- http://www.eastnewyorkfarms.org/ (New York)
- http://www.seattle.gov/neighborhoods/ppatch/ (Seattle)
- http://www.citygardenfarms.com/ (Portland)
- http://www.sfvictorygardens.org/about.html (San Francisco)
- http://www.millcreekurbanfarm.org/ (Philadelphia)
- http://www.newrootsurbanfarm.org/ (St. Louis)
What is more sustainable than growing your own food? Get out there, get dirty, and get eating!