Posts By Trish Popovitch
Talking about the homeless population of America is popular these days. And yet fixing the situation seems, to many, an impossibly overwhelming task. Others are proving it’s not. The Santa Cruz Homeless Garden Project (HGP) uses sustainable agriculture as the springboard to a safer, productive and more hopeful life for many. The agriculture and gardening training provided to the homeless of Santa Cruz County through the project has culminated in both jobs and permanent housing for its trainees.
“We find people that express much greater degrees of well being after they are with us for a year, whether it’s in their diet, in their sense of self, in their ability to set goals and achieve them, in how connected they feel to the community,” says Darrie Ganzhorn Executive Director of the Homeless Garden Project.
Established in 1990, the HGP was the brainchild of Paul Lee, a member of the Citizens Committee on Homelessness. Lee began spending nights along with other board members in the homeless shelter.
Straddling the rural urban divide, Shared Ground Farmers’ Coop in the Twin Cities area of Minnesota seeks to unite minority and immigrant farmers and help them gain access to local food markets, achieve economic viability, and enhance leadership skills all while emphasizing sustainable farming.
“Our coop aims to bring together farmers from diverse backgrounds to work towards a better living and more healthy food for folks in the city,” says Emily Hanson, co-founder of Shared Ground and co-owner of Amery, WI-based Whetstone Farm, a 40 acre property that is primarily in pasture with approximately five acres of vegetables is one of the founding farms of the cooperative. “We strive to help make farm ownership possible, especially for immigrants and others who struggle with land tenure.”
Against a backdrop of rising land prices, traditional farmers in Utah struggle to survive. However, a mix of resourcefulness and necessity is driving farmers to develop creative solutions in urban environs. Salt Lake City-based Green Urban Lunch Box (GULB) is one such endeavor that is utilizing innovative growing models to ensure urban farming fills the gap traditional farming cannot afford to maintain.
“We don’t want to do what other people are doing. If we cannot do it significantly better and significantly cheaper than another nonprofit is doing it then we shouldn’t do it, because we are just going to be competing with them for funds,” says founder Shawn Peterson.
A fifth generation Utah farmer and an experienced business entrepreneur, Peterson founded the Green Urban Lunch Box six years ago in the heart of Salt Lake City after watching the movie, Truck Farm (from the maker of King Corn) on using farm trucks in the urban setting.
The story in Salt Lake County, Utah is pretty typical of a post 2008 American community. Vacant lots, underutilized land and an ever-growing local populace who would rather have locally grown produce than chemically-saturated, origin-iffy imports. The difference in Salt Lake County, however, is that rather than a nonprofit or private company, the government is facilitating the local food and urban farming movement.
“The urban farming program is the brainchild of Councilman Jim Bradley,” says Supreet Gill, Program Manager for Salt Lake County Urban Farming. “He initially became interested in the program after reading an article by Michael Pollan on [the] benefits of eating healthy food. Since that time, the urban farming program staff has created and managed various projects aimed at promoting cultivation and consumption of local, fresh and healthy food.”
Salt Lake County Urban Farming is a mediator, a go between if you will, that facilitates the relationship between the producer and the consumer with nothing to gain monetarily (budgets are beyond tight).
When it comes to Controlled Environment Agriculture [CEA], Valerie Loew wants the U.S. to catch up with Europe and China before it’s too late.
“The rest of the world is so far ahead of us, because they are so limited with their own resources,” says Loew, who is professor and horticulture department head at Fullerton College in Southern California. “They are taking advantage of this technology way before us because we have sunshine and we have water; but we really don’t. Between Europe and China, the amount of greenhouses they have is just off the charts. We need to start catching up.”