Two five-acre urban farms in Columbus, Ohio are offering a hardy mixture of hope, employment and improved food access to underserved community members. The farms, collectively known as the Urban Farms of Central Ohio, are part of a nonprofit, sustainability initiative created by the Mid-Ohio Food Bank to revitalize the neighborhood of Grove City.
Sarah Lenkay, Strategic Projects Manager at the Mid-Ohio Food Bank, says that the Urban Farms of Central Ohio initiative is centered on the idea of fostering hope for the community and lasting, valuable education.
“We impact the community by giving new life to another life,” says Lenkay. “We want to serve as an anchor providing for the community.”
The two sites that the urban farms occupy were part of a land access grant given to the Mid-Ohio Food Bank by the Columbus Land Bank to repurpose underutilized properties.
Marking the most recent victory in a growing nationwide movement to promote the legality of seed libraries, The Seed Exchange Democracy Act (Assembly Bill 1810) was signed into law in California on September 9, 2016. The bill amends the “seed law” chapter of the state’s Food and Agricultural Code to expressly exempt seed libraries from onerous seed testing and labeling requirements. While necessary to protect buyers and consumers of commercial seeds, the impracticality of these requirements for community seed libraries would effectively cause them to shutter. California follows Minnesota, Nebraska and Illinois as the fourth state in the last 18 months to adopt laws favorable to seed sharing libraries.
Neil Thapar, a food and farm attorney at the Sustainable Economies Law Center (SELC) in Oakland, California who helped launch and draft the bill, explained how seed libraries work. “Seed libraries are essentially community-based initiatives where people can borrow seeds, plant them, and at the end of the season take back some seeds to replenish the seed stock at the library for other people to borrow.” He continues, “There really isn’t any ownership over those seeds. They’re held and stewarded by the library, but they’re shared freely throughout the community.”
One of the largest diocese in the nation, the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles has made food justice a top priority. In 2013, it created Seeds of Hope, a food justice ministry that “provides universal and affordable access to basic nutrition,” says Seeds of Hope Executive Director, Tim Alderson. “In the six California counties that make up the Diocese of Los Angeles, that condition does not exist. Our job is to do what we can to address these issues.”
The idea for Seeds of Hope was conceived when Bishop Jon Bruno was diagnosed with leukemia and admitted for his final treatment at City of Hope. Though not his patient, he met endocrinologist Raynald Samoa, M.D. who was covering rounds. The two men spent over two hours talking about food related illnesses, food access issues and disparities of food health in communites. Dr. Samoa also knew Alderson, who was working on a farm project for City of Hope.
David King grew up in Kansas where, despite being very poor, his family ate very well because they grew their own food on his grandfather’s three acres. This was where David got his first taste of seed saving.
As founder and chair of the Seed Library of Los Angeles (SLOLA), David’s been committed to teaching others how to save seeds. He says he was spurred into action to start the library in 2010, when the Obama administration approved GMO sugar beets.
“It was just too much,” he says. “I lost it.”
So on a cold, drizzly day in December of 2010, he held the first meeting of SLOLA. About 45 people showed up, more than he had expected, and 15 of the people who attended that first meeting are still active members today. As stated on their website, SLOLA was founded with the idea of enabling all who live in the Los Angeles area to have access to nutritious, pesticide-free, non-GMO food.
Across the country, cities and suburbs continue to swell and push outward beyond the rural urban divide threatening small local farmers and food systems. Agricultural landholders are increasingly succumbing to offers from developers that far surpass the lease fees that they could obtain were they to continue to lease their lands to farmers. As a result, in certain counties and cities, what farmland remains is often priced beyond what most farmers can afford, or else it is offered for short-term lease periods. These leases often conclude abruptly with the sale of the land to a developer leaving the farmer left looking for a new plot of land on which to farm.
The tri-county region south of Puget Sound in Washington is one such area where significant urbanization pressures are posing challenges to those who wish to farm its lands. To tackle these challenges and help insure that local food and farming systems remain and flourish in the area, the South of the Sound Community Farm Land Trust based in Olympia Washington employs an innovative model of farmland preservation to insure that farmers have access to land at affordable lease rates.
Unbeknownst to the tens of thousands of students and professionals who pour into Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, Michigan yearly is that many of the citizens who call Ypsilanti home live in food desert — approximately one in three lives below the poverty line, and car ownership is low. Yet hope has come to this community in the guise of a seemingly unassuming converted 1930s farmhouse that harbors an educational powerhouse for the community in its backyard.
From its 1.4-acre site, the 501(c)3 organization Growing Hope operates hoop houses, a number of farmers’ markets, organizes more than 700 volunteers annually, works with state-run organizations and advocates on a national level to support and strengthen farmers’ markets.
For a long time food banks and food pantries have occupied a respected, but relatively fixed role in the food system. They are the safety net that catches food before it goes to waste and redirects it those in need. But as popular movements to combat food waste reshape the way food moves through the food system, the reactionary role of food banks is changing too. With even large-scale grocers finding ways to compost or donate their would-be waste, food bank staff are having a harder time bringing in enough quality food to keep their clients well fed.
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.”