While Seedstock regularly profiles those who are taking a sustainable and local approach to creating a new food economy, the fact remains that industrial farming and distribution methods still reign supreme in America. So we are taking a step back to remind ourselves why their work is so important.
The convergence of processed foods, chemically intensive farming and a gas-guzzling supply chain have created a food system in the United States that would have seemed fantastical—and quite possibly nightmarish—to folks who lived in this country just a century ago.
Here are five worrisome facts about the U.S. food system to keep in mind the next time you go grocery shopping.
“Our challenge is not only feeding people who are hungry today, but how do we work proactively to address the causes of hunger and poverty?,” asks Kathryn Strickland, Executive Director of the Food Bank of North Alabama. “That’s why we’re interested in supporting economic development within in our local food system; to help create meaningful jobs and healthy food access to really get at the root cause of the hunger and poverty,” says Kathryn Strickland.
What started as a single volunteer sitting behind a desk in a local senior center in 1984 has blossomed into an organization that helps feed 100,000 people over an 8,000 square mile service area in Northern Alabama, with the help of 200 partnering agencies. As Strickland explains, the food bank doesn’t only want to reduce hunger; it wants to give local residents, farmers and stakeholders the tools to connect the dots of a local food system.
It’s called the Healthy Food Hub, and it’s the brainchild of three local nonprofits who want to transform a place now known as a food desert into an urban oasis for low-income patrons.
Furthering a tradition of urban gardening that spans at least three decades, East New York Farms! is a Brooklyn based non-profit focused on food justice, urban agriculture and community education. Historically overlooked for funding, littered with abandoned properties and better known for urban crime than urban gardening, East Brooklyn Farm! has emerged from a troubled past through the efforts of established residents and new immigrants.
One of New York’s outlying suburbs, East Brooklyn has a colorful history punctuated with the neglect and abandonment of white flight and a newer, more diverse population caught in a state of flux and change. East Brooklynites have learned self-sufficiency the hard way.
Rhonda Killough’s path to sustainable agriculture was an unusual one. While pursuing a career in performing arts in Las Vegas, her life was abruptly stalled by a motorbike accident in 2002.
“I was physically broken, I couldn’t move very much so I mostly listened to NPR,” she recalls. Two news reports in particular caught her ear. One described Las Vegas as the most wasteful city in the country, and the second outlined the impact of a lack of fresh produce on the incidence of diabetes in underprivileged communities.
As part of her recovery, Killough started taking brief walks around her neighborhood and got chatting with the groundskeeper at a neighbor’s large home.
Beginning an Aquaponics business takes hard work, the right partnerships and a patient nature when it comes to organic pest control. Viridis Aquaponics is a burgeoning startup based in Watsonville in the San Francisco Bay area. The farming business has been quite a learning curve for co-owner and former construction businessman Jon Parr. A mutual friend introduced Parr to Drew Hopkins. Finding they had complimentary business skills, they began devising a business plan for a sustainable greenhouse-based farm. That plan found an investor and soon became the eight acres of grow space that now houses Viridis Aquaponics, Inc. The company is days away from its first harvest.
A lot of farmers will tell you that the food grown through sustainable agriculture is only part of the equation. Creating infrastructure for small growers through food hubs, incorporating marketing and educational materials for customers and overhauling the perception of organic food in the United States are all essential parts of a successful food evolution. Indeed, there’s more to food hubs than just food. Just ask Kristen Suokko of Local Food Hub in Charlottesville, VA.
“We see Local Food Hubs nationally having impacts on a range of interrelated issues: food security, food safety (knowing where the food comes from), local economic vitality, land stewardship, and public health,” shares Suokko.
“ …because what it does is it makes fresh healthy produce and makes the experience of gardening available to communities that might not ordinarily have them. So it’s about health and food security, it’s about community building and creating spaces where a community can gather to plant and eat and really work together on a community project.” Abbie Harris Denver Urban Gardens
Urban gardening finds its modern roots in the victory garden movement of World War II. During the conflict, allies on the home front were encouraged to plant a vegetable garden to supplement the local food source and offset the restrictions of the rationing system. Urban gardens not only provided a sense of food security during a time of global conflict, but they also helped city dwellers connect with their food source. During the 1970s Denver, Colorado enjoyed a resurgence in the community garden movement and by the mid-1980s the concept of growing within the city limits was well established. In 1985, Denver Urban Gardens (DUG), an independent nonprofit began as a volunteer organization to support the urban agriculture movement. Today, the folks over at DUG manage over 130 community gardens spreading food security, education and a sense of community across the mile high city.