Unbeknownst to the tens of thousands of students and professionals who pour into Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, Michigan, yearly is that many of the citizens who call Ypsilanti home live in food desert — approximately one in three lives below the poverty line, and car ownership is low. Yet hope has come to this community in the guise of a seemingly unassuming converted 1930s farmhouse that harbors an educational powerhouse for the community in its backyard.
From its 1.4-acre site, the 501(c)3 organization Growing Hope operates hoop houses a number of farmers’ markets, organizes more than 700 volunteers annually, works with state-run organizations and advocates on a national level to support and strengthen farmers’ markets.
On a recent Friday morning, eggs, figs and other vegetables and fruits were being placed on the back of a small truck destined to be sold at a farm stand in the parking lot outside of the Senior housing block in the Carmelitos Public Housing Community in Long Beach, CA. The produce was grown on site at The Growing Experience (TGE), a seven-acre urban farm in North Long Beach that is located on a previously vacant lot that is part of the same housing complex.
The TGE urban farm is unique in that it is owned and operated by the Housing Authority of the County of Los Angeles (HACoLA), which manages 3,229 units of public and other affordable housing for the county’s Public Housing program.
Aquaponics farms often amaze visitors with the symbiotic connection between aquaculture and hydroponics that results in picture-perfect produce. Yet many aquaponics operations focus solely on training and education. Gyo Greens in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, has a focus on both the business and educational realm, to further spread the message about the importance of eating locally and naturally.
Owner Helga Tan Fellows, who spent much of her career in engineering and manufacturing, began Gyo Greens after traveling frequently for her job and seeing aquaponics operations elsewhere. An avid gardener, she thought aquaponics could be a fun hobby—yet her husband said it would probably be a bigger undertaking than just a hobby.
The global indoor agriculture market is expected to grow to more than $27 billion by 2020, fueled by consumer demand for fresh, local produce, a growing population, an ability to produce food in otherwise unfarmable locations, and heavy investment. But that growth is all speculation unless there are actually growers to grow the food and fill those jobs of the future. With this in mind, several universities and experienced growers have begun offering an array of programs and short courses designed to get the growing class of controlled environment farmers up and running.
Housed under the university’s Department of Agricultural & Biosystems Engineering and the School of Plant Sciences, CEAC is a hub for indoor ag education, research, and networking. The center includes a 5,200 square ft. training greenhouse, labs for plant physiology and engineering, a hydroponic growth chamber, and a “smart classroom” kitted out with technology that incorporates live data from the greenhouses into the classroom and shares lessons and visiting lecturers with distance learners. Through its own extension services and public curriculum, the CEAC also engages the public with opportunities for people not enrolled in the university to gain crop-specific hydroponic production experience, along with training on greenhouse management and design.
In a city of concrete that seems to extend forever, where every vacant lot looks destined for development, a patch of green is a welcome sight. Julie Beals, executive director of the Los Angeles Community Garden Council (LACGC) describes the response of residents of an East Hollywood neighborhood when they heard of plans for a community garden. “I had an older man break down in tears when I told him because they just expect the empty lot to be turned into a big apartment building.” She adds that in really dense neighborhoods people are thrilled when they find out they’re getting a community garden.
Speaking of the LACGC’s mission, Julie says, “We see ourselves as primarily community builders and we do that through gardening – it’s a way of bringing neighbors together, often for the first time.” The organization also encourages classes and programming in the gardens so that it’s more interactive and social. It’s not unusual for her to hear people say, “I lived here ten years, I never knew my neighbors and then I got a garden plot and now I know the people in this neighborhood.”
A stint with one of the most famous urban farming pioneers in the world along with a budding interest in hydroponics and aquaculture delved into while in the pursuit of a degree of in biology led Bowen DornBrook to take the plunge into aquaponic farming.
In 2013, he launched Central Greens, a 15,000-square-foot urban aquaponic farming operation located on a one-acre parcel of land in the heart of Milwaukee just down the road from Miller Park, home base of the Brewers baseball franchise.
Central Greens, an intertwined network of five separate greenhouses, currently houses eight 1,200-gallon tanks which are the lifeblood of the operation. Each tank holds between 500 and 600 fish, and the fish effluent in the water provides an organic nutrient source, or natural fertilizer, for the thousands of plants being grown in the system.
The innovative and comprehensive Vermont Farm to Plate food system strategic plan unveiled five years ago has borne fruit.
A little more than halfway through the 10 year strategic plan, Vermont has seen increases in food system jobs and local food purchasing, but still faces challenges related to farmland access, food insecurity, farm viability, and local food availability.
The VT Farm to Plate strategic plan, created in 2011 by the Vermont Sustainable Job Fund (VJSF) per legislation passed in 2009, focuses on developing and implementing solutions to create more jobs in the state’s farm and food economy, augment economic development in Vermont’s food sector, and increase food access. The Farm to Plate food system plan aims to not only support Vermont’s long established dairy product and maple syrup industries, but also to encourage the growth and diversification of the state’s food system economy.
Early Bird Special Tickets are now available for a limited time for Seedstock’s Grow Local OC: Future of Urban Food System Conference presented in partnership with the Orange County Food Access Coalition. The conference is slated for Nov. 10 – 11, 2016 at California State University, Fullerton in Orange County (Hosted by U-ACRE). It will focus on the community and economic development potential of urban food systems efforts across southern California and the country to improve food access and health outcomes, connect people to their food, and create new jobs and business opportunities by employing innovative business models and farming systems of the future.
By September 30, 2017, the USDA plans to increase investments across its New and Beginning Farmer and Rancher Program by $5.6 billion over two years. During this period, targeted outreach and technical assistance initiatives aim to increase participation in the program by 6.6 percent.
“We’ve got a big challenge in front of us—new farmers are hard to find,” said Lilia McFarland, USDA New and Beginning Farmer and Rancher Program coordinator.
For a long time food banks and food pantries have occupied a respected, but relatively fixed role in the food system. They are the safety net that catches food before it goes to waste and redirects it those in need. But as popular movements to combat food waste reshape the way food moves through the food system, the reactionary role of food banks is changing too. With even large-scale grocers finding ways to compost or donate their would-be waste, food bank staff are having a harder time bringing in enough quality food to keep their clients well fed.