urban agriculture policy
How can cities leverage unused agricultural land to increase the supply of locally available and create new jobs and farmers? What small scale urban agriculture solutions are bearing fruit? Is it possible to create an economically viable farming business on one or two acres of land? How can the USDA help? What are innovators in the sustainable urban agriculture space doing? What policy needs to be put into place to facilitate an active agricultural economy in a city and on its fringes?
These and other questions will be the focus of Seedstock’s upcoming Grow Riverside: Citrus and Beyond! conference, which is set to take place on March 19 – 20 at the Riverside Convention Center in Riverside, CA. The event will feature urban agriculture innovators, key policy makers, nutrition experts, and investors, who will partake in a two-day, outcomes-based conference to examine solutions to help cities, Riverside in this particular case, to galvanize their citizens, growers, advocates, government officials and other major stakeholders around the economic opportunities that can result from employing sustainable urban agriculture.
Global competition in the automotive industry that began in the 1970s has resulted in catastrophic job loss, economic decline, depopulation, and elevated crime for Flint, Michigan over the past several decades. So now, the once thriving company town is looking to redefine itself by utilizing the city’s vacant land as an asset to support a new, sustainable economy based on urban agriculture.
Urban Oaks Organic Farm resides in North Oak, a low-income area in New Britain, Conn. Urban Oaks was started to help improve the food-insecure neighborhood. “In our neighborhood, which used to be infested with crime and drugs and violence, it’s much less,” Elizabeth Aaronsohn, an active volunteer at Urban Oaks Organic Farm and Farm board member, said.
Mike Kandefer and Tony Norris (deceased, 2007) were originally herb farmers in Bolton, Conn., but when the city of New Britain, Conn., asked Kandefer and Norris to takeover an old, abandoned 3-1/2-acre flower farm (now known as Urban Oaks), the duo jumped at the chance. “The city put in $100,000. Lots of volunteers helped clean up the space. That was 15 years ago,” said Aaronsohn.
It’s not often that you hear of a region in California that hasn’t far surpassed the rest of the nation when it comes to understanding the import of local sustainable agriculture. That’s probably because you haven’t shopped for locally produced leafy greens in Long Beach. And if you have, you’ll know urban farms are few and very far between. That’s why Sasha Kanno, founder and president of the nonprofit Long Beach Local and owner of Farm Lot 59 feels herself quite an isolated drummer in the march for local growing.
Tired of commuting to Los Angeles for a career in the film industry, Kanno decided she wanted a family and bought a home, along with her husband, in Long Beach’s historic district. A mere block away was a distressed urban area losing itself to the violence of local gangs. Kanno helped begin a community garden on a vacant lot in the housing project. “I saw the potential for food production while I was doing that garden,” explains Kanno.
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.
Land ownership issues are a major challenge for urban community farming and gardening movements in many cities. When neighborhood groups spend time and resources to steward vacant parcels, they often do so at the risk of having their efforts wasted. An absentee landowner may at any time decide to develop or otherwise restrict access to a parcel, leaving the neighborhood group with no recourse to recover their investment in the land.
In 1996, the City of Chicago, in partnership with Chicago Park District and Forest Preserve District of Cook County, recognized this problem and took steps to solve it by forming NeighborSpace, an independent, 501(c)3 nonprofit land trust to help preserve community-managed open space.
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.
Leasing Abandoned City Lots, Six Young Farmers Cobble Together a Sustainable Urban Farming EnterpriseJuly 10, 2013 | Trish Popovitch
“There’s a lot of interest in urban agriculture right now, in coming outside and reconnecting with the earth and it just seems like there are a lot of people who are hungry for that.” - Emily Hanson, Stone’s Throw Urban Farm
Alex Leibman, Emily Hanson, Eric Larsen, Klaus Zimmerman-Mayo, Robin Major and John Seitz of Stone’s Throw Urban Farm are making a sustainable name for themselves by leasing empty lots throughout the inner city areas of Saint Paul and Minneapolis to grow food. The sustainable grown produce is in turn sold to the local community. It’s hard work for this six-farmer partnership, but so far the business model has borne fruit.
The founders of Stone’s Throw Urban Farm all have experience farming in the real world as well as education in sustainable agriculture. To launch Stone’s Throw they created a limited liability partnership comprised of numerous city lots that could produce a healthy sustainable diet for the local community.