urban agriculture policy
In what some might describe as a midlife crisis and others an epiphany, Daron Babcock, the executive Director of urban farming organization Bonton Farms, quit his all-consuming job in the corporate world and moved to Bonton, an impoverished inner city community in Dallas, Texas. He had already been volunteering there once a week, meeting with a group of men who had been in prison and were struggling to get their lives back on track. But two hours on a Saturday was not enough, so he decided to work full-time with the men.
After moving to Bonton, he noticed that many people were sick and dying at a rapid rate. He also learned that Bonton was a food desert, with the nearest grocery store a three hour return trip on public transportation. Daron recognized a correlation between the lack of access to healthy food and the high rate of cancer, stroke, heart disease, and diabetes – Bonton had a 300 percent higher death rate from diabetes than the county rate.
It was a collaboration between six men, three of whom suffered from diabetes and cancer, that led to a decision to plant a garden.
In September 2013, California passed Assembly Bill 551 (AB551), Urban Agriculture Incentive Zones (UAIZ), which allows cities and counties within the state to incentivize land owners to donate vacant or undeveloped land for urban agriculture use over a five-year period, according to information from the Los Angeles Department of Regional Planning. Land owners who participate will receive reduced property tax assessments in exchange for this allowance.
The requirements to participate include parcels between 0.10 and 3 acres, a minimum contract of five years, complete use of the land for agriculture purposes, and no prior physical structures existing on the property. Many California communities have already passed or are in the process of approving the ordinance including San Francisco, San Diego, Long Beach, San Jose, and Sacramento; however, only a couple of contracts have been processed in those areas combined.
The ordinance has already passed through Los Angeles County, but this motion only applies to unincorporated areas. The incorporated city of Los Angeles is currently in the process of approving the ordinance, according to Iesha Siler, a policy associate for the Los Angeles Food Policy Council (LAFPC).
Against a backdrop of rising land prices, traditional farmers in Utah struggle to survive. However, a mix of resourcefulness and necessity is driving farmers to develop creative solutions in urban environs. Salt Lake City-based Green Urban Lunch Box (GULB) is one such endeavor that is utilizing innovative growing models to ensure urban farming fills the gap traditional farming cannot afford to maintain.
“We don’t want to do what other people are doing. If we cannot do it significantly better and significantly cheaper than another nonprofit is doing it then we shouldn’t do it, because we are just going to be competing with them for funds,” says founder Shawn Peterson.
A fifth generation Utah farmer and an experienced business entrepreneur, Peterson founded the Green Urban Lunch Box six years ago in the heart of Salt Lake City after watching the movie, Truck Farm (from the maker of King Corn) on using farm trucks in the urban setting.
Once a blighted lot strewn with trash, today the E. D. Robinson Urban Farm at 12th & Brandywine in Wilmington, Delaware consists of 600 sq. ft. of intergenerational community garden space and 1,400 sq. ft. of commercial growing space.
Managed by Adrienne Spencer, an amiable and well-connected neighborhood bartender turned passionate advocate for urban farming, the E. D. Robinson Urban Farm provides elderly and low income residents with fresh fruits and vegetables, beautifies the local landscape, and is paving the way for a brighter future.
Named for the late City Councilman and neighborhood activist Eric Robinson and the 11th Street Bridge community, E. D. Robinson Urban Farm was founded in 2009 as Wilmington’s first urban farm. The Delaware Center for Horticulture (DCH), a nonprofit membership organization that mobilizes and inspires community greening statewide in urban and suburban environments founded and supports the farm.
An urban farming project in West Sacramento, California, aims to fill the area’s food deserts with fresh produce and create new farmers in the process.
Founded in 2014, the West Sacramento Urban Farm Program is an initiative of the agricultural education nonprofit Center for Land-Based Learning, headquartered in Winters, California. The program converts vacant lots in urban West Sacramento neighborhoods to increase food access, and support production of fresh fruits and vegetables.
“We’re growing about 25,000 to 30,000 pounds of produce a month, so it’s definitely a significant amount of produce that all stays within West Sacramento for the most part,” program founder Sara Bernal says.
A mutual passion for gardening and supporting underserved communities were the motivations behind the conception of Farm LA, a Los Angeles-based non-profit organization geared toward converting dilapidated and underutilized parcels of land for urban farming.
Emily Gleicher, a freelance producer for design and animation projects, and Jason Wood, a former commercial diver who now works as an electrician and framer in construction, founded Farm LA after a non-traditional gift sparked their interests.
“For Valentine’s Day, Jay found these lima bean plants at CVS that sprout out and say ‘I Love You,’” says Gleicher. “We had already become very passionate about gardening… so the lima beans took off, and we all of a sudden had lima bean plants all over our house. That is where our love for gardening and lima beans started.”
The story in Salt Lake County, Utah is pretty typical of a post 2008 American community. Vacant lots, underutilized land and an ever-growing local populace who would rather have locally grown produce than chemically-saturated, origin-iffy imports. The difference in Salt Lake County, however, is that rather than a nonprofit or private company, the government is facilitating the local food and urban farming movement.
“The urban farming program is the brainchild of Councilman Jim Bradley,” says Supreet Gill, Program Manager for Salt Lake County Urban Farming. “He initially became interested in the program after reading an article by Michael Pollan on [the] benefits of eating healthy food. Since that time, the urban farming program staff has created and managed various projects aimed at promoting cultivation and consumption of local, fresh and healthy food.”
Salt Lake County Urban Farming is a mediator, a go between if you will, that facilitates the relationship between the producer and the consumer with nothing to gain monetarily (budgets are beyond tight).
The Grow Local OC: Future of Urban Food Systems Conference presented by Seedstock in partnership with the OC Food Access Coalition is only 10 DAYS away. Slated for Nov. 10 – 11, 2016, at California State University, Fullerton (Hosted by U-ACRE), the conference will explore the community and economic development potential of fostering local food systems in cities.