non-profit sustainable agriculture
by Jenny Sechler
How do you create a thriving, sustainable local food system?
According to Charlie Jackson, the executive director of the Asheville, NC based Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project “you’ve got to jump in and start doing it.”
This is precisely what Jackson and a group of fellow volunteers did in 1999, when they began to develop community programs aimed at protecting the farming economies of their western North Carolina communities. Their efforts were so successful that now, 15 years later, ASAP has developed into an model for communities across the United States looking to invigorate their farming economies and improve public health and vitality.
Jesse Blom, James Godsil, and Emmanuel Pratt have some lofty goals. Together with the Sweet Water Foundation, the trio hopes to convert urban blight into fertile 21st century neighborhoods, inspire disengaged teenagers that have tuned out at school, and bridge communities together—and they’re doing it all through aquaponics.
The Sweet Water Foundation grew out of Will Allen’s Growing Power Project. The former professional basketball player-turned-urban farmer is considered a pioneer in urban agriculture. For 20 years, Allen has helped to turn food deserts into farms in Milwaukee and Chicago. James Godsil had served on the Growing Power board for 5 years, used Milwaukee Renaissance wiki power to promote Allen and Growing Power across the nation and beyond when along came Emmanuel Pratt and Jesse Blom with an idea for a nonprofit foundation that would bring aquaponics into communities and schools.
The recently established DROPP, Distributors of Regional & Organic Produce and Products, is a side project for the Great Basin Community Food Cooperative in Reno, Nevada. The food cooperative came into existence in 2005 under a buyer’s club model. Although the food coop is still going strong, DROPP is an effort to improve the infrastructure between the informed consumer and the sustainable grower and is best described as a food hub where farmer and fork collide.
“As we were building new relationships with local farmers we started sending out local availability lists to restaurants and members of our coop just saying ‘this farm has this and this farm has that.’
Project Sweetie Pie, a grassroots gardening organization in Minneapolis, Minn., has a simple objective: Grow luscious gardens in the city’s vacant lots to cultivate a strong community. Michael Chaney, Project Sweetie Pie organizer and community leader, and other community members (specifically members of Afro-Eco, a Minneapolis group that promotes social, economic, cultural, and ecologically sound cooperation) formed the organization to cultivate garden plots on unused lots scattered throughout North Minneapolis. Chaney said the organization supports the plots to help promote the growth of community agricultural businesses and a food corridor containing livable wage jobs.
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.
In 2011, then-21 year old Tyson Gersh met Darin Mcleskey at the University of Michigan. According to Gersh, who grew up in nearby college-town Ann Arbor, McLeskey was the first person who ever used the words “Detroit” and “cool” in the same sentence.
People had always told him that Detroit was a scary place.
”Ann Arbor is a bubble,” says Gersh. “I legitimately thought Detroit was the airport.”
After Mcleskey talked Gersh into taking a first road trip 50 miles down I-94, past the airport, Gersh was amazed to see skyscrapers.
Portland, Oregon’s Zenger Farm is striving to be a national model for urban, sustainable agriculture education while meeting the needs of people in its backyard: the low-income neighborhoods of Lents and Powelhurst-Gilbert.
The urban farm works to provide sustainable food and agriculture education, food access, and support for emerging food businesses in the area.
Though the farm is not currently certified, plans are underway to pursue organic certification within the next year, according to Sara Cogan, Farm Manager for Zenger Farms. Sustainable agriculture methods used on the farm includes drip irrigation, strict avoidance of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, and creation of habitat to support diverse populations of beneficial insects.
Luke Ebner and Angela Stanbery were fine art majors who also had an eye (and a few green thumbs) for organic gardening. Ebner started working at Permaganic Co.’s Eco Garden, a community garden, educational program and non-profit in Cincinnati, Ohio, part-time in 2003. Stanbery joined him in 2004.
While Ebner had previous experience working at various organic farms and Stanbery worked as a ‘horticulture helper’ with the Cincinnati Park Board, the couple never dreamed they’d take over and transform Eco Garden into a non-profit, educational organization.