“Community garden” can mean a lot of things–from a neighborhood vegetable plot to a cooperative farming business. As the phrase evolves, Seedstock takes a look at ten cities which, through scale, creativity or a combination of both, are stretching the limits of what community-scale agriculture can accomplish.
You might think of central Alaska as a frigid and snowy place, and it can be. But for about 90 days in the middle of the year, the sun gets up around 4 a.m. and stays up until about midnight, making for a compact, but intense growing season. The Fairbanks Community Garden takes advantage of this, as well as the enthusiasm of Arctic gardeners who want to get outside and put some food by for the winter while they have the chance. With the help of some plastic mulch and other ground covers to warm up cold soils, Alaskan gardeners in this city demonstrate the influence determination can have on our ability to produce our own food.
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).
For LA Compost, responsible food use and consumption doesn’t end with farm-to-table practices. The Los Angeles-based non-profit organization supports maintaining the total loop within the story of food, which largely includes compost.
“Healthy soil translates into healthy food, and healthy food leads to healthy people. Composting is just as valuable as any of the other processes,” says Michael Martinez, the Executive Director of LA Compost.
In early 2013, Martinez and other founding members started LA Compost as a food waste diversion service, transporting organic waste from four different cities to composting centers by bike.
Since University of California Cooperative Extension established the first Master Gardener Programs in the state in 1981, its army of certified volunteer gardeners, who are today spread across more than 50 counties, have supported programs aimed at educating California residents, especially those living in low-income communities, about growing their own food.
In Los Angeles, one such program that Master Gardener Program volunteers supported was the Common Ground Garden Program, which was established in 1976 with funds from a Congressional appropriations bill to support a national Urban Garden Program. Working in collaboration with the Common Ground Garden Program, the Master Gardener volunteers played a pivotal role in helping to set up several community and school gardens across the county.
After funding from the Urban Garden Program ceased, the Los Angeles County branch of the Master Gardener Program formally took over the task of training community gardeners.
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.