The Grow Local OC: Future of Urban Food Systems Conference presented by Seedstock in partnership with the OC Food Access Coalition is only THREE WEEKS 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.
Below is a summary of the conference details:
Day 1 – Conference Day
Day 1 (Nov. 10) of the conference, attendees will convene at the Portola Pavilion at California State University, Fullerton in Orange County, CA for a series of panels and keynotes that will address such topic areas as:
Nolan Schmidt of Tower Urban Family Farm (TUFF) in Fresno, recalls a particularly eye-opening incident at one of his urban garden sites, when a group of children from a local school stopped by to sample some of their produce. “One of the kids tried a kiwi and you just saw his eyes light up like he had just discovered something he never knew was possible.” Nolan learned that none of these children had ever seen a kiwi. The irony was not lost on him. Not far from where these children lived, kiwis are farmed commercially on a large scale. “So maybe two miles from their home is a kiwi farm, but yet they’ve never seen a kiwi.” And just like much of the produce grown in this fertile area, it ends up being shipped elsewhere, served up in big city restaurants and markets around the world, while neighborhoods of Fresno are plagued with food deserts.
It was an unusual path that led Nolan to urban farming, for he is actually a chef by trade. At 17 he pursued the culinary arts, working in many restaurants in Fresno, until he realized that to progress he would have to move to a big city. He ended up working at a three star restaurant in New York. “It’s kind of funny that I had to cook in New York to realize I wanted to be a farmer in Fresno,” he says. It was there that he realized that Fresno and the Central Valley grow some of the best produce in the world, “And it’s then shipped around the world for all these chefs to define themselves.”
In Los Angeles, CA, community members involved in the urban farming and food justice movements are keenly aware of the food insecurity that is so prevalent in its South Los Angeles neighborhoods. It was this insufficient access to healthy, nutritious food that spurred Florence Nishida to co-found LA Green Grounds, a volunteer organization that works with residents of South L.A. to convert their front lawns and parkways into edible landscapes and urban farms.
“If you have a garden in the front yard it leads to conversation, and that’s the most important thing,” says Nishida. “The minute you start growing squash, tomatoes, or something people have never seen before, they start asking questions, and that starts the conversation. Those conversations lead to a sense of community.”
Making vegetables a visible part of the community is what has guided LA Green Grounds ever since its founding in 2010.
Teresa O’Donnell built her 2015 TEDx talk around a simple question, “Can an urban farmer earn a living wage?” O’Donnell is executive director of Plant It Forward Farms, a Houston nonprofit founded in 2012 that helps refugees build sustainable urban farms.
“What we mostly do at this point is try to establish markets so they can make a living,” O’Donnell said. “There’s a lot of vacant land in Houston. We partner with schools, civic organizations and churches. Churches and schools ask us [to partner] all the time.”
The idea for Plant It Forward came while O’Donnell was looking for ways for her software company to give back to the community. She became interested in the plight of refugees and helping them build businesses after reading about how actress Tippi Hedren had helped Vietnamese refugees gain the business skills necessary to open nail shops in Southern California.
Urban farming plays a vital role in community development—it provides access to healthy, local food and creates a bond between the farmer and local residents.
Yet sometimes, that bond can be taken away.
That’s what happened to Patchwork City Farms in Atlanta when the farm, which was situated on land belonging to the Atlanta school district, lost its lease, says Jamila Norman, an environmental engineer turned farmer, who started the urban agriculture venture with her business partner Cecilia Gatungo.
Their interest in farming began in 2010, when they helped a local church that was growing food onsite to distribute produce to local markets. Norman and her partner Gatungo had no background in farming, except that they had grandparents and great grandparents who were farmers.
Amidst Iowa’s abundance of monocrop farms, which collectively grow more corn than any other state in the union, farmer Jenny Quiner says serendipity led her and husband Eric to bring a small quarter acre urban farm to life on the outskirts of Des Moines.
Prior to the inception of their urban agriculture endeavor, Jenny and Eric had spent some time working on a farm in Greenly, Colorado while she pursued her Master’s of Education degree. When she finished the program in 2010, they returned to their hometown of Des Moines where she’d been offered a job teaching science.
“I wanted to do homesteading and it wasn’t right with our setup. Then this plot went up for sale by owner [near their home]. My husband sells real estate and we flipped it, it became a rental for us,” Jenny said.
The property was in an unincorporated area just outside Des Moines, and it had enough land that she was able to turn a quarter acre of the property into a fledgling farm.
For Patricia Spence, executive director of the Urban Farming Institute of Boston (UFI), farming was always a part of family life. Her grandfather, who came from Jamaica, set up his own mini farm right in Boston where he grew everything from grapes to a wide variety of vegetables. Her father then did the same thing in their home. Now as executive director of the Urban Farming Institute, a job that requires plenty of energy and enthusiasm, she is actively pursuing the organization’s all-encompassing mission.
Patricia recalls how recently students from a local university came over to discuss business planning. At one point the students said, “So you have to decide in your mission statement, which thing you’re going to do – are you going to work on the commercial sector and create the farmers, or are you going to engage the urban communities?” Her response was unequivocal: “There is no separation. We have to do it all. Because as you’re farming, your community is walking right by you and you want to engage them, get them involved. That’s the best way to do it.”
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.