In a neighborhood in Kansas City, Missouri, blighted by crime and lack of economic opportunity, a transformation is taking place. A vacant lot less than an acre in size has been cleared and a greenhouse has been built that will house a self-sustaining aquaponics system. Already growing on the property are basil, thyme, parsley, a variety of leafy greens as well as tomatoes, onions, and peppers – all using home compost and with no added chemicals.
Dre Taylor, the founder of Males to Men, is the entrepreneur behind the Nile Valley Aquaponics 100,000 Pounds Food Project that aims to bring fresh, chemical-free, healthy food to a neighborhood that is considered a food desert. When asked what led him to become an urban farmer, Taylor doesn’t hesitate, “I became an urban farmer because I wanted to be self-sufficient.”
On the streets of a Boston, MA neighborhood where one grocery store was vastly outnumbered by fast-food venues, and health reports consistently revealed staggering numbers of chronic disease cases, 17-year-old Shavel’le Olivier sought to become a force for change.
Now, seven years later, Olivier leads the Mattapan Food and Fitness Coalition Vigorous Youth group, a thriving youth organization that is working to increase food access and improve health outcomes in the Boston neighborhood of Mattapan.
“Our mobile farmer’s market is totally youth-led, and we’ve brought our farm stand to the bus station, the local health center and senior residences,” says Olivier. “We started Mattapan on Wheels. We are about to begin Mattapan Flavors. We’re always asking, ‘What can we do now?’”
Gateway Greening has been taking a holistic approach to urban agriculture, gardening, and education in St. Louis for more than three decades.
“Our mission is to educate and empower individuals to strengthen their communities through gardening and urban agriculture,” Gateway Greening’s Communications Manager Jenna Davis says.
While the group started out as a gardening club focused on ornamental, native, and perennial plants, Davis says it has since blossomed into a three-pronged catalyst for grassroots community building.
USDA Announces $16.8 Million in Grants to Help SNAP Participants Purchase More Fruits and VegetablesJune 8, 2016 | USDA
News Release – WASHINGTON, June 8, 2016 — The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) today awarded $16.8 million in competitive grants to help Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) participants increase their purchases of fruits and vegetables. The funding comes from the Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive (FINI) program, authorized by the 2014 Farm Bill and administered by USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA).
“USDA is committed to providing low income families with the resources they need to consume more nutritious food. Last year, SNAP kept at least 4.7 million Americans — including 2.1 million children — out of poverty,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “Programs like FINI build on the success we’ve seen with the use of healthy incentives and with many of the projects being run at farmers markets, we’re also helping to strengthen local and regional food systems.”
Despite Current Dysfunction in the Food System, Renowned Agroecology Expert Holds Out Hope for FutureMay 10, 2016 | AJ Hughes
What is the state of the nation’s food system? Is it fundamentally broken and beyond repair? Does it need to be changed, and if so, how? What is it doing right?
To address these questions, we reached out to Stephen R. Gliessman, an internationally recognized leader in the field of agroecology, and the Alfred E. Heller Professor of Agroecology in UC Santa Cruz’s Environmental Studies Department, where he has taught since 1981. He was the founding director of the UCSC Agroecology Program (now the Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems) and is the author of the renowned and pioneering textbook Agroecology: The Ecology of Sustainable Food Systems. In 2008, Gliessman became the chief editor of the internationally known Journal of Sustainable Agriculture.
Here is what we learned:
What is the state of the food system?
The current state of the food system is unhealthy. There is too much emphasis put on the business of growing food rather than long-term stewardship, care for the earth, and the people who grow food. That, I think, is a more important part of what’s going on. It’s amazing what the current food system is able to produce in terms of calories, but it’s also amazing in terms of what it doesn’t produce in terms of healthy nutritious food.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has defined food deserts as parts of the country where it ‘s hard to buy fresh fruit, vegetables, and other whole foods. To be considered a food desert, at least 500 people or 33 percent of an area’s population must live further than one mile from a supermarket or large grocery store. That distance increases to 10 miles when defining a rural food desert. Food deserts are often located in impoverished and in areas with higher concentrations of minorities; though this is not always true.
That’s the textbook definition—but to fully understand where food deserts come from, it’s imperative to examine some of America’s not-so-shining moments. Among them: redlining, a practice used throughout the 20th century (that still occurs today) to limit or deny financial services to residents of minority and poor white neighborhoods; and “white flight,” the term used to describe the departure of whites from urban areas with increasing numbers of minorities.
After several years of fundraising and planning, including a $3 million capital campaign, construction on Rainier Beach Urban Farm and Wetlands is tentatively set to start in April 2016. Seattle Tilth, the “nonprofit organic gardening and urban ecology organization” that operates the farm, spearheaded the expansion, with help from the Seattle Parks Foundation.
The Rainier Beach Urban Farm, previously featured in Seedstock, is “Seattle’s largest urban farm.” It grows fruit and vegetables that are sold at farms stands or cooked up for free community meals. Educational programming teaches volunteers and visitors about how to grow and cook fresh, healthy food. Other programs focus on the restoration of the wetlands.
San Bernardino County, the largest county in the United States, stretches all the way from Southern California’s Inland Empire to the California-Nevada state line.
In addition to numerous farms and other agricultural businesses, the county is home to Amy’s Farm, a polyculture-oriented farm in Ontario with a focus on education; Huerta del Valle, a robust community garden in Ontario; and the Upland-based Incredible Edible Community Garden.
Thanks to people like Arthur Levine, local and urban agriculture in San Bernardino County is experiencing a burgeoning grassroots movement.