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Fostering Sustainability and Innovation in Agriculture

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An Indoor Farm and Urban Ag Center in the Middle of a Food Desert – Q&A with Duron Chavis

July 28, 2016 |
Aeroponic towers and hydroponic growing systems being used at Harding Street Urban Agriculture Center. (Photo courtesy of Duron Chavis)

Aeroponic towers and hydroponic growing systems being used at Harding Street Urban Agriculture Center. (Photo courtesy of Duron Chavis)

In the economically depressed and food insecure City of Petersburg, VA, a former YMCA building long neglected, but not forgotten, has become a beacon of growing hope in the community. Over the past two years the building has been refurbished and transformed into a high tech indoor farm and urban agriculture research center to provide workforce development training and increase food access through the production and distribution of high quality, fresh produce to area residents.

The center known as Harding Street Urban Agriculture Center is run by Duron Chavis, a community advocate and Indoor Farm Director at Virginia State University – College of Agriculture. Seedstock recently spoke to Chavis to learn more about the origin of Harding Street Urban Agriculture Center and its indoor farm, its goal, the sustainable methods employed in the indoor farm’s operation, and more.    Read More

Pantry on Wheels Enables Indiana Food Bank to Increase Access for Food Insecure

July 27, 2016 |
Gleaners Food Bank of Indiana Mobile Pantry Program brings pantry on wheels to seniors in Wayne County, Indiana.

Gleaners Food Bank of Indiana Mobile Pantry Program brings pantry on wheels to seniors in Wayne County, Indiana. (Photo courtesy of Gleaners Food Bank of Indiana)

On a hot summer afternoon near Indianapolis, people start lining up early when the Gleaners Mobile Pantry truck pulls into a community partner parking lot. They may stand in line up to two hours to walk through the pop-up marketplace, where they can select dry goods and meats and fresh produce, when available, from the farmers’ market-style food pantry.

Kathy Hahn Keiner, chief programs and agency relations officer at Gleaners Food Bank of Indiana, is one of the people running the Mobile Pantry program and often rides along to help set up the mobile marketplace. Gleaners has two refrigerated trucks and a fleet of smaller trucks that provide close to 300 mobile pantries a year.

“At a mobile pantry we’ll serve 150 to 200 families in a two-hour distribution. There may be three or four people to a family, so over 12 months that’s a lot of people. The most we’ve ever done at once is five on a Saturday, but that’s an awful lot,” Hahn Keiner says. Read More

Community College in Southwest Embraces Aquaponics to Grow Farmers of the Future

July 26, 2016 |
Urban Agriculture Students at Santa Fe Community College learn about hydroponics and aquaponics. A new aquaponics facility is on the horizon for the college.(photo courtesy Adam Cohen/Santa Fe Community College)

Urban Agriculture Students at Santa Fe Community College learn about hydroponics and aquaponics. A new aquaponics facility is on the horizon for the college.(photo courtesy Adam Cohen/Santa Fe Community College)

With the embrace of aquaponics growing in tow with the urban agriculture sector, Santa Fe Community College in New Mexico wants to stay ahead of the curve and insure that its students are positioned to become the farmers of the future.

“The aquaponics industry is growing—10 years ago no one had heard of aquaponics and hydroponics—now people are excited,” says Adam Cohen, lead faculty member for the college’s greenhouse management program. “In the next five years, where do we go? We want to get information out to people and provide students with a way to go out and find jobs.”

Cohen says that aquaponics is a great agricultural technology to employ and teach in New Mexico as the state has a very arid climate and trenchant water resource challenges. Read More

10 Restaurants Serving Up Hyperlocal Dishes

July 25, 2016 |
Austin's Odd Duck is part of a growing movement of restaurants pushing the limits of local sourcing. Photo taken by Richard Casteel.

Austin’s Odd Duck is part of a growing movement of restaurants pushing the limits of local sourcing. Photo taken by Richard Casteel.

Ten years ago, finding a restaurant where you could eat fresh, locally sourced food would have either cost you your entire paycheck or been impossible to find. Today, the farm to table dining scene is proliferating, and with it comes a proliferation of intense one-upmanship when it comes to the thoroughness of local sourcing  that has some of us wondering if the day will come when diners will be expected to simply place an order for which raised bed they’d like to eat from and pull up a chair. In the meantime, we have the idea of “hyperlocal” sourcing, which has restaurants running their own farms, raising food inside the dining room, and grazing cows outside the dining room window. Below is a list of 10 restaurants doing everything they can to put their local food systems on a plate. Read More

Nile Valley Aquaponics Aims to Bring 100,000 Pounds of Wholesome Nutrition to a Food Desert

July 21, 2016 |
Dre Taylor (center) giving a tour of Nile Valley Aquaponics. (Photo courtesy of Males to Men)

Dre Taylor (center in white shirt) giving a tour of Nile Valley Aquaponics. (Photo courtesy of Males to Men)

In a neighborhood in Kansas City, Missouri, blighted by crime and lack of economic opportunity, a transformation is taking place. A vacant lot less than an acre in size has been cleared and a greenhouse has been built that will house a self-sustaining aquaponics system. Already growing on the property are basil, thyme, parsley, a variety of leafy greens as well as tomatoes, onions, and peppers – all using home compost and with no added chemicals.

Dre Taylor, the founder of Males to Men, is the entrepreneur behind the Nile Valley Aquaponics 100,000 Pounds Food Project that aims to bring fresh, chemical-free, healthy food to a neighborhood that is considered a food desert. When asked what led him to become an urban farmer, Taylor doesn’t hesitate, “I became an urban farmer because I wanted to be self-sufficient.” Read More

$2 Million in Grants for Urban Agriculture Projects Awarded to 42 Conservation Districts in US

July 20, 2016 |
Seeds@City Urban Farm, located in downtown San Diego, serves as an outdoor classroom and laboratory for the sustainable urban agriculture program at San Diego City College. (photo courtesy Damian Valdez/Seeds@City Urban Farm)

Seeds@City Urban Farm, located in downtown San Diego, serves as an outdoor classroom and laboratory for the sustainable urban agriculture program at San Diego City College. (photo courtesy Damian Valdez/Seeds@City Urban Farm)

News Release – The National Association of Conservation Districts, in partnership with USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service, has awarded $2 million in grants to 42 conservation districts in 25 states to boost technical assistance capacity for urban agriculture and conservation projects.

“NACD and the conservation districts we represent work on a scale that no other conservation organization or coalition does,” NACD President Lee McDaniel told an audience of conservation leaders in Minneapolis on Sunday. “We have the reach we need to engage the 98 percent of folks who don’t necessarily produce our fuel, fiber, and food, but still can make a sizable and positive difference on the landscape.”

“With today’s announcement, NACD is broadening its base and the base of support for conservation in this country. We are going to reward, support, and encourage conservation implemented on every landscape.” Read More

Women in Food: Shavel’le Olivier Uses Power of Connection to Engage Youth in Improving Food Access

July 20, 2016 |
Shavel'le Olivier (in glasses), leader of the Mattapan Food and Fitness Coalition Vigorous Youth with the group's Mobile Market team. (Photo courtesy of Mattapan Food and Fitness Coalition)

Shavel’le Olivier (in glasses), leader of the Mattapan Food and Fitness Coalition Vigorous Youth with the group’s Mobile Market team. (Photo courtesy of Mattapan Food and Fitness Coalition)

On the streets of a Boston, MA neighborhood where one grocery store was vastly outnumbered by fast-food venues, and health reports consistently revealed staggering numbers of chronic disease cases, 17-year-old Shavel’le Olivier sought to become a force for change.

Now, seven years later, Olivier leads the Mattapan Food and Fitness Coalition Vigorous Youth group, a thriving youth organization that is working to increase food access and improve health outcomes in the Boston neighborhood of Mattapan.

“Our mobile farmer’s market is totally youth-led, and we’ve brought our farm stand to the bus station, the local health center and senior residences,” says Olivier. “We started Mattapan on Wheels. We are about to begin Mattapan Flavors. We’re always asking, ‘What can we do now?’” Read More

Pedal-power and Precision Revolutionize Food Rescue in Boulder

July 19, 2016 |
Boulder Food Rescue makes pickups from grocery stores and restaurants seven days per week and in all weather conditions in order to keep food from falling through the cracks. Photo credit: One Thousand Designs

Boulder Food Rescue makes pickups from grocery stores and restaurants seven days per week and in all weather conditions in order to keep food from falling through the cracks. Photo credit: Ethan Welty

When 1 in 7 people are going hungry in a country that throws out half the food it produces, there isn’t a supply problem; there’s a distribution problem. This was part of the hypothesis tested in a 2011 study conducted by former University of Colorado students Caleb Phillips and Becky Higbee. By looking at data collected through a local food rescue organization, the study found that large volumes of food were going to waste in northern Colorado because there wasn’t a well-coordinated effort capable of catching that food before it became completely unusable. The research team showed that, with funding and adequate labor, organized food rescue and redistribution efforts were not only possible at small and large scales, they could also capture enough potentially wasted food in Boulder and Broomfield Counties to feed everyone in that area.

On the wings of this information, Phillips and Higbee joined with friends Nora Lecesse, Helen Katich, and Hana Dansky to form Boulder Food Rescue. The project began with the same systems-minded approach as the study. The BFR crew met with  local grocery store officials, whose stores were trashing unsold food, and asked why they wouldn’t choose to donate it instead. Some blamed the rules of local food banks, which prohibited donations of produce outside of its original packaging. Many more grocery managers lamented that food gone past a supermarket’s saleable standards is too perishable to survive the extended journey from store to food bank to plate.  As the study had already shown, timing was key. Read More

Urban Agriculture Fair Celebrates Growing ‘Hyper Local’ Food Movement

July 18, 2016 |
envision urban agriculture fair san diego food systems alliance

On Saturday July 30th, San Diego Food System Alliance will be hosting an Envision Urban Agriculture Fair from 1:00 P.M. – 4:00 P.M. to support the local food movement and celebrate the City of San Diego’s implementation of Urban Agriculture Incentive Zones (AB 551).

SAN DIEGO, CA – On Saturday July 30th, San Diego Food System Alliance, Slow Food Urban San Diego, International Rescue Committee, and Alchemy San Diego will be hosting an Envision Urban Agriculture Fair from 1:00 P.M. – 4:00 P.M. to support the local food movement and celebrate the City of San Diego’s implementation of Urban Agriculture Incentive Zones (AB 551). The Fair will include an urban farmers market, heirloom seed swap, healthy cooking demos by chefs, soil corner with composting demos, local kombucha and beer, local organic food makers, workshops including beekeeping, resources for growers by nonprofits and nurseries, small farm animals, crafts for kids, and live music. The sponsors for the Fair includes Urban Plantations and UCSD.

Envision Urban Agriculture Fair will be held at SILO – MAKERS QUARTER™, an outdoor venue in East Village with several vacant lots nearby. The Urban Agriculture Incentive Zones Ordinance (AB 551), recently ok-ed by the City Council in the City of San Diego, will provide a property tax incentive for private landowners to turn their vacant lots into urban farms and community gardens. In the City of San Diego, it is estimated that there are at least 3,000 vacant lots that are eligible for this tax incentive.   Read More

5 Innovative Urban Home Growing Systems for the Apartment Gardener

July 14, 2016 |
IKEA is introducing hydroponic indoor gardening kits for the urban dweller.

IKEA is introducing hydroponic indoor gardening kits for the urban dweller.

Home gardening continues to grow in popularity across the country in tow with the rise of local food movement. According to the National Gardening Association, 35% of all households in America, or 42 million households, are growing food at home or in a community garden, an increase of over 17% in the past five years. However, with 63% of the American population living in cities that comprise only 3.5% of the country’s land area, many urban apartment dwellers with growing proclivities often lack access to land on which to plant even a micro garden, and have difficulty obtaining plots in crowded and oversubscribed community gardens. Fortunately, the growing challenges of apartment-dwellers haven’t gone unnoticed by urban gardening entrepreneurs, who have created a number of innovative growing systems to help city dwellers and micro-gardeners in almost any location grow their own produce. Here’s a list of five urban home growing systems worth checking out.
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