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Fostering Sustainability and Innovation in Agriculture

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Urban Farming Institute Digs in to Build Healthier, Locally-based Food System

September 26, 2016 |
Participants in the Urban Farming Institute of Boston. Photo courtesy of Urban Farming Institute of Boston.

Farmers from the Urban Farming Institute of Boston. Photo courtesy of Urban Farming Institute of Boston.

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.” Read More

In Fight Against Waste and Food Insecurity, SoCal Gleaning Org Recovers Millions of Pounds of Fresh Produce

September 22, 2016 |
Food Forward's Wholesale Recovery Program Manager, Luis Yepiz, insp

Food Forward’s Wholesale Recovery Program Manager, Luis Yepiz, inspects grapes recovered from a wholesale donor. The program works to reduce waste by collecting unwanted produce from wholesale donors in and around the downtown Los Angeles Wholesale Produce Market. Photo courtesy of Food Forward.

The number of food insecure residents in Southern California is staggering. According to Rick Nahmias, founder and executive director of Food Forward, there are nearly 2.4 million people in Los Angeles and surrounding counties who lack access to sufficient quantities of affordable, nutritious food. If that number were a state “its population would rest somewhere in between Nevada and New Mexico in size,” says Nahmias.

That is the challenge that Food Forward tackles each and every day by recovering excess fruits and vegetables and donating them to local agencies that feed the hungry. Read More

Two Urban Farms in Ohio Offer Hope and Food Access to Community in Need

September 21, 2016 |
A volunteer mans a pay-what-you-can produce stand at Wheatland Farms, one of two urban farms in Grove City, Ohio that are part of the Mid-Ohio Foodbank's Urban Farms of Central Ohio initiative. Photo courtesy of Mid-Ohio Foodbank.

A volunteer mans a pay-what-you-can produce stand at Wheatland Farms, one of two urban farms in Grove City, Ohio that are part of the Mid-Ohio Foodbank’s Urban Farms of Central Ohio initiative. Photo courtesy of Mid-Ohio Foodbank.

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. Read More

California Amends Law to Allow Seed Libraries to Freely Share Noncommercial Seeds

September 20, 2016 |

Marking the most recent victory in a growing nationwide movement to promote the legality of seed libraries, The Seed Exchange Democracy Act (Assembly Bill 1810) was signed into law in California on September 9, 2016. The bill amends the “seed law” chapter of the state’s Food and Agricultural Code to expressly exempt seed libraries from onerous seed testing and labeling requirements. While necessary to protect buyers and consumers of commercial seeds, the impracticality of these requirements for community seed libraries would effectively cause them to shutter. California follows Minnesota, Nebraska and Illinois as the fourth state in the last 18 months to adopt laws favorable to seed sharing libraries.

Neil Thapar, a food and farm attorney at the Sustainable Economies Law Center (SELC) in Oakland, California who helped launch and draft the bill, explained how seed libraries work. “Seed libraries are essentially community-based initiatives where people can borrow seeds, plant them, and at the end of the season take back some seeds to replenish the seed stock at the library for other people to borrow.” He continues, “There really isn’t any ownership over those seeds. They’re held and stewarded by the library, but they’re shared freely throughout the community.” Read More

Eight Acre Urban Farm in Baltimore Provides Foundation for Self-supporting Local Food System

September 19, 2016 |

A hoop house that is part of the eight acre Real Food Farm urban farming operation in Baltimore. Photo courtesy of Civic Works.

To combat food access challenges and build community, eight acres in and around Baltimore’s Clifton Park have been transformed into Real Food Farm.

After two years of research and fund development, the farm harvested its first crop in 2010. Since then, the farm has produced thousands of pounds of food for distribution across Baltimore’s food deserts.

Chrissy Goldberg, Food and Farm Director for Civic Works, the nonprofit that oversees Real Food Farm, said more than 13,000 pounds of food have been distributed between January and August 2016. One of the primary methods of distribution is the Mobile Farmers Market program.

“The goal is to strengthen Baltimore communities,” Goldberg said. “We’re a little more nuanced, we believe in local and sustainable. We’re promoting a local food system that can support itself.” Read More

LAST DAY to Purchase Discounted Early Bird Tickets for Seedstock’s ‘Future of Urban Food Systems’ Conference

September 16, 2016 |

early bird registrationToday is the LAST DAY to obtain Early Bird discounted registration tickets for the upcoming Grow Local OC: Future of Urban Food Systems Conference presented by Seedstock in partnership with the OC Food Access Coalition. Scheduled 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. Read More

Episcopal Diocese Plants Seeds of Hope to Address Food Insecurity in Southern California

September 15, 2016 |
Tim Alderson,

Tim Alderson, executive director of Seeds of Hope, a food justice ministry that provides universal and affordable access to basic nutrition.

One of the largest diocese in the nation, the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles has made food justice a top priority. In 2013, it created Seeds of Hope, a food justice ministry that “provides universal and affordable access to basic nutrition,” says Seeds of Hope Executive Director, Tim Alderson. “In the six California counties that make up the Diocese of Los Angeles, that condition does not exist. Our job is to do what we can to address these issues.”

The idea for Seeds of Hope was conceived when Bishop Jon Bruno was diagnosed with leukemia and admitted for his final treatment at City of Hope. Though not his patient, he met endocrinologist Raynald Samoa, M.D. who was covering rounds. The two men spent over two hours talking about food related illnesses, food access issues and disparities of food health in communites. Dr. Samoa also knew Alderson, who was working on a farm project for City of Hope. Read More

A Homecoming Plants Seed for Establishment of Urban Farm

September 14, 2016 |
Michael Meier, co-founder and head farmer at Ground Floor Farm in Stuart, Florida. Photo credit: Zoe Aparicio.

Michael Meier, co-founder and head farmer at Ground Floor Farm in Stuart, Florida. Photo credit: Zoe Aparicio.

The crew behind Ground Floor Farm never expected to return home to Stuart, Florida, and start an urban farm and community space. And yet, that’s how life happened—and they fully believe that others should consider pursuing the same idea in their communities.

The idea behind Ground Floor Farm was conceived about three years ago by Jackie Vitale, Mike Meier, and Micah Hartman. The three founders came from various career and college backgrounds, and none had set out to work in farming. For example, Vitale had studied and worked in theater, and Meier said his attraction to farming was more from a political and environmental angle than a focused interest in agriculture.

Yet when returning home one winter about three years ago, they broached the idea of starting a farm. “We started to talk about what our town needs,” Meier says. “We thought about a community space, food, fun, and art.” After finding a spot in downtown Stuart, they officially opened in March 2015. Read More

Library Seeks to Establish Generations of Seed Shepherds

September 13, 2016 |
David King, founder and chair of the Seed Library of Los Angeles (SLOLA). Photo Credit: Karen Briner.

David King, founder and chair of the Seed Library of Los Angeles (SLOLA). Photo Credit: Karen Briner.

David King grew up in Kansas where, despite being very poor, his family ate very well because they grew their own food on his grandfather’s three acres. This was where David got his first taste of seed saving.

As founder and chair of the Seed Library of Los Angeles (SLOLA), David’s been committed to teaching others how to save seeds. He says he was spurred into action to start the library in 2010, when the Obama administration approved GMO sugar beets.

“It was just too much,” he says. “I lost it.”

So on a cold, drizzly day in December of 2010, he held the first meeting of SLOLA. About 45 people showed up, more than he had expected, and 15 of the people who attended that first meeting are still active members today. As stated on their website, SLOLA was founded with the idea of enabling all who live in the Los Angeles area to have access to nutritious, pesticide-free, non-GMO food. Read More

‘Resources are the Real Money’ at Last Organic Outpost Urban Farm

September 12, 2016 |

The Last Organic Outpost is a nonprofit farm and social entrepreneurship incubator, based in Houston’s 5th Ward. Photo courtesy of Last Organic Outpost.

Joe Icet has a message for humanity: the world is in sad shape, and we’re here to lift it up through sustainable agriculture. His friends have even dubbed him a “land evangelist” because of his passion in talking to students and community members about the power of positive land stewardship.

“This is the ‘Disneyland of Sustainability’, haven’t you heard?” he asks as he guides visitors around a slightly hidden farming campus in Houston’s Fifth Ward residential neighborhood.

This retired union pipe fitter has made sustainable and organic farming his life’s mission. He founded The Last Organic Outpost, a nonprofit farm and social entrepreneurship incubator, in 2004. Since then, he has built up a thriving community education program and urban farm on less than two acres of land. Read More