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Fostering Sustainability and Innovation in Agriculture

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Posts By Trish Popovitch

Urban Farming and the Law: A Q&A with Great Lakes Environmental Law Center’s Nick Leonard

August 17, 2015 |
Picture of Nick Leonard provided by Nick Leonard

Picture of Nick Leonard provided by Nick Leonard

Nick Leonard is an environmental law attorney currently serving a fellowship at the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center. Operating in Detroit since 2008, Leonard is an expert on the legalities of urban farming in Detroit and the surrounding region. Working pro bono, Leonard provides legal advice to individuals, organizations and businesses involved in urban agriculture. Leonard addresses some of the legal questions of urban farmers in Detroit and other cities.

What is the most frequent legal question you hear when it comes to urban farms?

Many of Detroit’s farmers and gardeners have been operating on their current site pursuant to a real property license agreement with the City of Detroit. [This is a common arrangement in cities]. Unfortunately, real property license agreements provide very little security for the license holder as they can essentially be terminated at any time. Many urban farmers and gardeners are very interested in how they can legally obtain a secure interest in their farm property and what they must do to comply with all continuing real property obligations, like maintaining the property in accordance with local property maintenance laws. Read More

Santa Clara County, CA Opens Doors to Urban Ag with Incentive Zones Act

August 12, 2015 |
San Jose Urban Orange Farm by Don McCullough

San Jose Urban Orange Farm by Don McCullough

In 2014, the state of California passed AB 551, the Urban Agriculture Incentive Zones Act, which allowed towns and cities to offer tax breaks to property owners that turn vacant land into urban farm space. Best known as the center of America’s tech industry, Santa Clara County, CA has pushed the urban ag door wide open for the towns and cities in their jurisdiction by adopting the Incentive Zones Act to boost urban agriculture.

“So much of agriculture is being depleted and developed. The intention is for ag producers to stay in ag production with a property tax break,” says Joseph Deviney, Santa Clara County Agricultural Commissioner as he explains the decision to adopt AB 551 for the county. Read More

Oakland Spring Rising’s David Grefrath Looks to Build Urban Farm Capacity in Bay Area

August 9, 2015 |

David Grefrath. Courtesy of David Grefrath

David Grefrath is a radical farm activist.

Grefrath, who has a background in soil remediation and farming, wanted to increase access to fresh local food by creating urban farm space in  Berkley, CA.  And in 2012 he had his eye on a piece of research land owned by UC Berkley that was slated for development.

“A group of us organized a covert land occupation with a focus on farming on seven arable acres on the north side of Berkley,” says Grefrath. The event would later become known as “Occupy the Farm,” inspiring a documentary of the same name. Read More

New Roots Fights for Food Justice in Louisville, KY

August 4, 2015 |
Photo courtesy of New Roots

Photo courtesy of New Roots

The neighborhoods west of Ninth Street in Louisville, Kentucky have a reputation for crime and violence. Here, poverty combines with negative perceptions. One result is that the area is considered to be a food desert, where local residents have limited access to fresh, healthy food.

New Roots, Inc., a food justice focused nonprofit founded in 2009, is working hard to change minds and increase food access in the area. Read More

Mahindra USA Boosts Michigan’s Urban Farm Space

July 17, 2015 |
Photo courtesy of Mahindra.

Photo courtesy of Mahindra.

Mahindra USA, a Houston, Tx.-based farming equipment manufacturer, shifted its focus towards sustainable agriculture, in 2010. And now the firm is looking to boost small urban farms with a recent investment of $100,000 in Detroit’s urban farmers.

Through its Detroit-based North American Technical Center, Mahindra awarded money and equipment grants to five Detroit nonprofits. The recipients include two community gardening programs, the Neighbors Building Brightmoor’s Farmway group and the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network’s D-Town Farm. The city of Detroit received a Mahindra utility vehicle. The tractor company has made similar awards to other metropolitan areas and their urban farmers in the past.

“As part of the urban ag initiative program it’s a natural fit,” says Martin Cisneros, Marketing Communications Manager at Mahindra USA remarking on the Detroit investment.  “I think it’s a movement we’re generally seeing across the industry; a more sustainable agriculture. Seems like the ecotype farming initiatives, the co-ops, is what you see a lot more of.” Read More

Five Reasons Alaskans Are Winning the Sustainable Food Race

July 13, 2015 |
A high tunnel in Alaska’s Matanuska-Susitna Valley  USDA/Creative Commons

A high tunnel in Alaska’s Matanuska-Susitna Valley USDA/Creative Commons

The Lower 48 have come far in the battle for local food, but Alaska has much to share when it comes to creating sustainable economies. Despite dramatic seasonal changes, infrastructure gaps and transportation challenges, sustainability has always been a way of life in many of Alaska’s small communities.

Here are the top five ways Alaskans are role-modeling sustainable food economies.

Marine Life Conservation Programming. Abundant marine life has sustained Alaska’s native population for centuries. Increased commercial fishing in the Bering Sea and ocean acidification has created numerous issues for local Alaskans and their small fishing communities. With a growing fish to school program, community supported fisheries and the advocacy work of the Alaska Marine Conservation Council (AMCC), protecting the natural resources of America’s final frontier has never looked brighter. Actively engaged in reducing bycatch and advocating for a reduction in exports, the AMCC is the small fisherman’s champion ensuring Alaskan fish is always available for Alaskan natives.
Read More

Women in Food: Columnist, Coroner and Community Organizer Ashley Ponschok

July 9, 2015 |
Photo courtesy of Ashley Ponschok

Photo courtesy of Ashley Ponschok

Ashley Ponschok grew up in Minneapolis-St. Paul and returned to her family’s home state of Wisconsin to attend college. After studying biology and chemistry at the University of Wisconsin, she decided the lab life wasn’t for her.

Switching to the field of public health changed everything. Today, Ponschok is the Senior Community Development Specialist for, a Green Bay initiative to promote a healthier community. Read More

Alaska Marine Conservation Council Sustains Local Food in Coastal Communities

June 17, 2015 |
Courtesy of the AMCC

Courtesy of the AMCC

The Alaska Marine Conservation Council (AMCC) addresses infrastructure and population challenges in the nation’s last frontier in an effort to localize Alaska’s food system.

Founded in 1994, the AMCC works hard to ensure the economics of Alaska’s most bountiful natural resources, its marine life and coastal communities. Read More