Riverside, California, once known for a thriving real estate industry, was hit hard by the economic crisis of 2008. As more residents became dependent on soup kitchens and food bank use increased, lack of access to fresh local produce in the community became starkly apparent, despite the fact that the city is surrounded by thousands of acres of agricultural land.
That’s when UC Riverside graduate Fortino Morales convened fellow students to find space on the campus of University of California at Riverside for a community garden. Through the persistence of student volunteers, UC Riverside is now home to a three-acre community garden that isn’t only growing fresh food, it is growing converts to a Riverside local food movement.
It’s no surprise that San Francisco has a strong urban farming community—and it’s one borne of the efforts of local government working closely with community groups.
San Francisco has implemented supportive city plans, policies, and codes that help facilitate urban agriculture within the city, according to Eli Zigas, Food Systems and Urban Agriculture program manager at SPUR. SPUR, a non-profit organization, promotes good planning and government in the San Francisco Bay Area.
With a community garden program established in 1973 and sustainability planning devised in 1994, Seattle has a long history of sustainable urban agriculture. Today, Seattle paints a realistic picture for how cities can approach sustainable urban agriculture, illustrating both the limits and possibilities of a local food economy in the nation’s urban centers.
Several city departments help drive Seattle’s sustainable success including the Office of Sustainability and the Environment and the Department of Neighborhoods. Numerous city and private programs encourage urban agriculture, gardening, shared space, environmental preservation and community involvement. Access to local healthy food plays a big role in the city’s planning. By supporting community gardening and backyard farms, Seattle allows its residents to become not only more self-sufficient, but more educated, more aware and more community-minded.
Smart Living Studios, Inc. was co-founded by Kristee Rosendahl, chief product officer, and Carl Alguire, CEO, in 2012. This was the same year the company introduced its first product, Smart Gardener, a free online application that’s designed to help people plan, grow and harvest their own organic food.
Since the company’s inception, private individuals who care about the future of the food system have funded the business.
“They learned about us through word of mouth, presentations or press about what we were doing and then reached out to us,” says Rosendahl.
Smart Gardener keeps gardening simple and makes recommendations for the right plants, where to plant them, how many to plant, and then sends a list of what to do that week. Tasks can include planting, mulching, feeding, thinning, watering, and more. The planner keeps records, too.
Local urban farmers in Detroit have recognized that the whole is often greater than its parts—and so they’ve combined forces to strengthen the local food scene and their own bottom lines.
Six Detroit farm businesses have combined to create City Commons, a cooperative in which members support the six farms with a purchase of seasonal shares of fresh produce and other farm products. Members receive a weekly box of fresh-from-the-farm, organically grown food that has been raised entirely within Detroit’s city limits. The coop model is advantageous for customers who like a wide variety of seasonal fruits and vegetables. It’s also advantageous for independent farmers who are trying to make a living exclusively by farming—especially those who share a passion for fresh, local food for an urban population.
Founded in 2010, Seattle’s Alleycat Acres currently consists of three small farms that serve their surrounding communities not only with a place to reconnect with their food source, but also a shared space to regain the meaning of community in the urban setting.
Scott MacGowan is one of Alleycat Acre’s original founders, focusing on educational programming and logistics for the current and future farm plots.
“There is a cultural shift that has to happen,” says MacGowan. “People need to start growing more food, have more community get-togethers and share resources; more of those traditional farming practices. We’ve got to figure out ways to bring it back. And by negotiating with private landowners for abandoned residential lot use, Alleycat Acres is doing just that.
With just over half a million residents, Portland is a small northwestern city with long roots in sustainability and urban agriculture. In 1981, an urban growth boundary was approved for the city forcing a dense population into a restricted space and transitioning the city into a space savvy social economy. Popular Science name Portland the most sustainable city back in 2008. Today, Portland remains a 400-square mile haven for sustainability enthusiasts and avid gardeners.
As a nation enamored with the marvels of capitalism, it is little wonder that worker-owned cooperatives (businesses owned and controlled by their workers) have not managed to capture much attention in the United States. There are, in fact, 300 worker cooperatives in the United States, but most of them remain relatively unknown or misunderstood by the general public.
Our Harvest Cooperative is a union worker-owned cooperative started in 2012 by the Cincinnati Union Coop Initiative. The Cincinnati Union Coop Initiative, which emerged in 2009, is a collaboration between Spain’s Mondragon Worker-Owned Cooperatives and the United Steelworkers—two organizations that came together with the goal of duplicating the success of Mondragon in the United States. Mondragon, founded in 1956, is now the seventh-largest corporation in Spain and remains a model for successful worker-owned cooperatives throughout the world.