–by Sally Beare
Something is afoot in urban America…or should we say ‘underfoot’. And it’s not the sidewalk. All across North America, urban farms are sprouting up, with vegetable gardens, animal husbandry, orchards, salad gardens, fish farms, beehives, compost facilities and more.
Take the Massachusetts Avenue Project in Buffalo, NY, for example. When a vacant lot on the West Side was turned into a community vegetable garden in 2003, onlookers thought it all a bit…well…strange. Yet now, several empty lots are being turned into plots in the city, catering, as the Buffalo News reported, to ‘a taste for local food, a passion for living sustainably and a devotion to ensuring everyone has access to healthy, affordable food’. Community gardens like those in Buffalo not only provide good fresh food at affordable prices but they also bring people together, give disenfranchised people something productive to do, and teach entrepreneurship and business skills when excess produce is sold.
And there are many others. For example, in 1999 the Homeless Garden Project, Santa Cruz, CA was set up to provide produce through its CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program and give employment to homeless people. The Garden Project in Lansing, Michigan, assists 440 families in growing their own produce at its 18 community farms and produces 200,000 lbs of fresh produce each season. The Food Project in Boston raises 120,000 lbs of vegetables which is sold through a CSA and at a farmers’ market. This is just the tip of the iceberg – according to www.urbanfarms.org, there are now 10,000 urban farms springing up across the country.
Food produced at urban farms is good for the planet, good for the pocket, and good for health. It is supplied locally, so reduces carbon emissions; the food is affordable to even those on the lowest incomes, it is local, seasonal, and usually organic, and so higher in nutrients than food from large-scale farms which is flown for thousands of kilometres from producer to plate. All that digging and pulling up is also great exercise out in the vitamin D-providing sunlight, too; and research shows that working with soil increases our levels of beneficial bacteria. Community gardens and urban farms can also be a great way to meet like-minded people and bond. How can you not be happy and fulfilled when beaming at a friend or neighbour over a beautiful head of broccoli you’ve grown together from scratch?
On a more global scale, urban farms and small community-run farms have implications for food security, since they give growing-power to the people and take it away from monopolising corporations. There is plenty of scope for more urban farms – for example Chicago has 70,000 vacant parcels of land and Philadelphia 31,000. These could be transformed from overgrown, neglected, trash-littered wastelands to verdant green spots, pleasing to the eye and the palate. Will the day come when everyone has a little plot to grow their own fresh produce, just as they do in the Longevity Hot Spots?
If you are interested in becoming part of a local food-production scheme, why not find out if there is an existing urban farm or community growing scheme near you, or even whether there is a vacant lot which can be converted with the help of others in your community. Try also joining your nearest CSA program for affordable, local, seasonal, organic produce. It’s a step on the way to creating a Longevity Hot Spot in your own backyard.