“Carrots!” says this young intern from FoodShare, a Toronto non profit urban agriculture program
FoodShare is an organization that take a broad look at the entire food system – how food is produced, distributed and consumed.
How people get their food is also important. Food distribution systems that involve communities and help to create neighborhood leaders have a great potential to enhance individual and community empowerment, by leading people to feel that they have some control over this very basic part of their lives. Again, because of its material, cultural and social importance, food is special in its power to mobilize people to action. All our programs are based on this community building principle.
FoodShare tries to take a multifaceted, innovative and long-term approach to hunger and food issues. This means that we’re involved in diverse actions: grassroots program delivery, advocacy for social assistance reform, job creation and training, nutrition education, farmland preservation and campaigns for comprehensive food labelling are just a few examples of the areas we work in.
FoodShare was started in 1985 by the Mayor of Toronto and many citizens concerned about the growing hunger issues of the city. Since then, they have been actively involved in tons of projects all over the city, it is part of the school system, the farmers markets, and food banks of the city as well as host a hunger hotline, cooking classes, gardens and garden education, and healthy food choices classes. 
The Field to Table Urban Agriculture Project, founded by Annex Organics, has been home to a sprouting business, a rooftop greenhouse and garden, living machines, and a composting system. It now also includes honey bee hives and, off site, the Sunshine Garden, a 6000 sq ft market garden. Click here for a flier about the Sunshine Garden.
They also have a program called Good Food Boxes started in 1994, which runs similarly to a large buying club. The project distributes boxes of fresh (and often local) food throughout the city for either $12 or $32 depending of the version they choose.

Professional evaluation of The Good Food Box shows that participating in the program helps people access a more nutritious diet. It is now thought that up to 70% of deaths result from diseases that have a diet-related dimension, and there is mounting evidence that eating enough fruit and vegetables is key to preventing disease. Not only is it a matter of justice that everyone should have access to the food they need to keep them healthy- it also makes sense because of the enormous costs to the health care system that result from treating these diseases.

The Good Food Box makes top-quality, fresh food available in a way that does not stigmatize people, fosters community development and promotes healthy eating.

 

The Salad Bar program is a Farm to School program aimed at getting fresh vegetables to school children in Toronto.  Modeled after salad bar programs from the US, this program aims to get kids excited about fresh, local food.  Click here to see what kids said about the Salad Bar at their school.

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02/05/2008 

There are huge opportunities to grow more food in our cities, a new report by Sustain[1]  shows.  Edible Cities,[2]  looks at examples of urban agriculture projects in cities including New York, Milwaukee and Chicago and identifies a series of opportunities that other cities could be adopting. 

Edible Cities reportBen Reynolds, one of the authors of the report explains: “We are all familiar with allotments, and the odd community garden as features of the city landscape, but more often than not a lot of space is wasted, where with a little support we could see projects like this in the UK, where salad crops, vegetables and even fish are produced commercially within the city.”

One project in Milwaukee, Growing Power,[3]  has set up a fish farm as part of a river ecosystem where they are able to harvest watercress and fish to sell to local restaurants. This holistic system goes one step further, by feeding some of the fish on worms that are produced as part of a large scale composting enterprise on site.

The report is the result of a visit by a group of London officials, supported by the US Embassy.  Amongst the visitors[4]  was Colin Buttery, Deputy Chief Executive of the Royal Parks.  Colin commented: “We saw some really inspiring initiative in the States. In Chicago, they were growing food amongst the ornamentals flower beds in the central park.  There were no fences, and yet there was no vandalism, with the harvested produce sold at a nearby market .[5]  It would be great to see some of these ideas adopted in London and cities across the UK.”

The report draws many parallels with the situation in London, where food growing, despite being a genuinely successful way of bringing the capital’s diverse communities together, is often forced to the extremities of neighbourhoods rather than celebrated and built into the heart of an area.

Many of the opportunities[6]  identified by this report are going to be explored at the Growing Food for London conference in City Hall on the 30th June,[7] where it is hoped the city’s planners, architects, growers and policy makers will buy into an edible vision for the Capital’s future. Watch this (green) space…

ENDS

Press contact: Ben Reynolds, London Food Link project officer, tel (work): 020 7837 1228; (mobile): 07939 202711. Ben@sustainweb.org

Notes

For copies of the report or photos please contact Ben Reynolds.

  Sustain: The alliance for better food and farming represents around 100 national public-interest organisations, Sustain (a not-for-profit organisation) advocates food and agriculture policies and practices that enhance the health and welfare of people and animals, improve the working and living environment, promote equity and enrich society and culture. http://www.sustainweb.org

  Edible Cities: A report of a visit to urban agriculture projects in the U.S.A is launched on April 29th 2008. It is available at www.sustainweb.org/publications (for press copies please contact Ben Reynolds above).

  For more information on the Growing Power centre in Milwaukee visit www.growingpower.org/

  The four visitors included; Colin Buttery, Royal Parks, www.royalparks.org.uk/; Tony Leach, London Parks and Green Spaces Forum www.lpgsf.org.uk/; Catherine Miller, Federation of City Farms and Community Gardens (London officer), www.farmgarden.org.uk/london-pages.html; Ben Reynolds, London Food Link, part of Sustain,www.londonfoodlink.org.

  The organisation Growing Power, established the potager kitchen garden in Grant Park, downtown Chicago in 2005.  The food growing plots replaced a formal annual bedding area, so that park users do not realise at first sight that planting is entirely made up of over 150 varieties of heirloom vegetables, herbs and edible flowers.  For more information see www.growingpower.org

  The main opportunities the report identifies for growing more food in London can be summarised as follows:

  • Planting more fruit and nut trees in parks and along routeways 
  • Planting beds of edibles instead of traditional ornamental plants in bedding in parks 
  • Grow more food in under-utilised spaces, setting up community gardens in parks, derelict council facilities, social housing land and unused private gardens. 
  • Alternative food production such as mushroom growing, bee-keeping and planting edibles on roves and window boxes. 
  • Re-establish food growing as a major land-use on the green belt/urban fringe.

  The Growing Food for London conference is an all day event held at City Hall, on Monday 30th June.  Booking is necessary.  Speakers include Tim Lang (City University), Joe Nasr (author of Urban Agriculture: Food, Jobs and Sustainable Cities), Fritz Haeg, (author of Edible Estates: Attack on the Front Lawn) and Ian Collingwood (Middlesborough Council regeneration, and lead on the Middlesborough Urban Farming project). The event, which is jointly organised with the London Parks and Green Spaces Forum, is part of the London Festival Architecture

By Tamara Galbraith (TexasTam)

April 22, 2008

The Climate

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found in a 2007 study that several factors will affect mass food production in the near future:

“Overall, food production is projected to benefit from a warmer climate, but there probably will be strong regional effects, with some areas in North America suffering significant loss of comparative advantage to other regions. The U.S. Great Plains/Canadian Prairies are expected to be particularly vulnerable. Climate change is expected to improve growing conditions for some crops that are limited by length of growing season and temperature. (e.g. fruit production in the Great Lakes region and eastern Canada).”

Climate change also has a widespread effect on plant growth: the behavior and aggressiveness of certain plant diseases and pests, adverse affects on beneficial insects, birds, and animals, the composition of soil, water quantity and quality…the list goes on.

Energy Use

When the cost of produce rises, it isn’t necessarily due to a sudden freeze in Florida or a drought in California. The price of gas greatly affects food costs due to transportation expenses. Remember when something as small and light as a bunch of scallions was 3/$1?

If enough people would grow their own food, it would make a dramatic difference in energy demand, traffic congestion, and the emission of greenhouse gases.

(On a related point, produce that hasn’t logged a bunch of “food miles” is better quality. It’s fresher and isn’t bounced around in transit. According to environmental writer Bill McKibben, 75% of the apples sold in New York City come from the West Coast or overseas, even though the state produces far more apples than city residents consume. Isn’t that ridiculous?)

Food Safety

Here’s a scary stat: The FDA inspects only about 1% of the imported foods it regulates, down from 8% in 1992 when imports were far less common. (The USDA, which regulates meat and poultry, is much stricter.) The FDA also doesn’t require that exporting countries have safety systems equivalent to those in the USA.

Here’s more from a story that ran in USA Today in March, 2007:

 “The decline in FDA inspection resources has been pronounced in the past five years. While food imports have soared about 50%, the number of FDA food-import inspectors has dropped about 20%, the agency says.

“Meanwhile, more food imports come from developing countries, where pesticide use is often higher than in the USA, water quality is often worse and workers may be less likely to be trained in food safety, says Michael Doyle, head of the Center for Food Safety at the University of Georgia.

“A 2003 FDA study found pesticide violations in 6.1% of imported foods sampled vs. 2.4% of domestic foods. It has not been updated. Several years earlier, the FDA found salmonella and shigella, which can cause dysentery, in 4% of imported fruits and vegetables vs. 1.1% of domestic products.”

Ick. 

Cost

A packet of tomato seeds will set you back, on average, about $3. Let’s say 50% of the 100 seeds in the packet germinate and become fruit-bearing plants, and that each plant bears a minimum of 10 lbs. of fruit. That’s 500 lbs. of fruit for $3.

Conversely, a bag of cherry tomatoes on the vine (about a dozen, if you’re lucky) also costs $3.

Of course, when growing your own, you could calculate the cost of soil additives, tomato cages, canning supplies, water, mulch, etc., and the value of your time and effort spent tending to the plants, but I think the benefits are pretty clear.

My message is, of course: grow your own stuff. Climate can be controlled more effectively, unless you opt to have a large farm; the management of your food crops shouldn’t be all that daunting. Cloth can protect from freezes as well as hot temperatures. Soil quality can be manually altered to your crops’ needs. Everything — including watering levels, pest and disease problems, etc. — can be more closely monitored under your own watchful eye.

Best of all, you will know what – if any — pesticides and fertilizers are being applied to your food crops, instead of being forced to buy mysteriously-produced food that wasn’t safely grown or properly inspected.

Even a family of five doesn’t need much yard space to host a highly productive garden. If you’re pressed for yard space, use containers. “Vertical gardening” – training vines to grow up instead of spreading out – is also effective and efficient. If you have a yard, consider ripping out some of the grass and making it into a veggie garden. That lovely green lawn is a huge and unnecessary water waster anyway.

If you’re a rookie to vegetable gardening, do plenty of research before jumping in. Learn what grows well in your area. Work to continually improve the soil. Read about crop rotation to ensure efficient production year after year. Can and preserve the wonderful food you’ve worked hard to grow so you can enjoy it all year round.

Lastly, if you absolutely don’t have the time, space or energy to grow your own fruits and vegetables, please do your best to support local organic food markets. Check out the website localharvest.org to find the one closest to you.

References:

IPCC, 2007: Climate Change 2007: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability. Contribution of Working Group II to the Third Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Parry, Martin L., Canziani, Osvaldo F., Palutikof, Jean P., van der Linden, Paul J., and Hanson, Clair E. (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom, 1000 pp.

Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future by Bill McKibben

http://www.usatoday.com/money/industries/food/2007-03-18-food-safety-usat_N.htm “U.S. food imports outrun FDA resources” By Julie Schmit, USA TODAY, Mar 18, 2007 © Copyright 2007, USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co., Inc.

 

And here’s the original link to the article.

Even the Wall Street Journal is talking about urban agriculture.

Check out this video about Kipp Nash and his yard farms in Boulder, CO (but you gotta be patient and watch an ad first) and the article that goes along with it.  It gives a brief description of start-up costs and profit as well.

 

I’ve only met Ed Bruske a handful of times, but I was impressed by the garden outside of his Columbia Heights home and his dedication to local food and DC Urban Gardeners.  He helped found DC Urban Gardeners last year after finding that there was a lack of outreach for urban gardeners in DC.  His blog, The Slow Cook, is updated constantly with great recipes, informative news, and goings on both around his home and in the DC foody community.  

He recently wrote an excellent article on the global food crisis that I though was very interesting, especially for people who live in DC.  I would check out his article and the links (especially the Washington Post ones).  While you’re there, take a look at his blog- he’s got great links, great recipes, and great advise.  

For anyone living in the DC area, Ed Bruske and the DC Urban Gardeners are a goldmine of information, take advantage of it!  They know pretty much everything growing going on in DC and their website has tons of links to local organizations, stores, and garden info. They’re involved in lots of projects so if you’re looking to volunteer, they’ve got some awesome opportunities. They also have a mailing list and a yahoo group you can get involved with.   They’re super open to talking so just drop them an email

So check out:

The Slow Cook 

DC Urban Gardeners

The Vancouver Compost Demonstration Garden

I visit the CIty Farmer website, an information mecca for urban agriculture,  every few days, to drool over awesome urban gardening projects, look at photos, videos, articles, and forums, learn facts about urban agriculture from all over the world, and wish that I could move to Vancouver.

 

So what is City Farmer? according to them….

“Shoemakers, fashion models, computer geeks, politicians, lawyers, teachers, chefs … all city dwellers … all can grow food at home after work in back yards, community gardens or on flat roofs. For the past 30 years, City Farmer has encouraged urban dwellers to pull up a patch of lawn and plant some vegetables, kitchen herbs and fruit. Our message is the same today as it was in 1978 and will be relevant far into the future. This website is a collection of stories about our work at City Farmer here in Vancouver, Canada, and about urban farmers from around the world. The site is maintained by City Farmer executive director, Michael Levenston.”

 

CityFarmer.org (and now the new bloggish-style site cityfarmer.info) is a  goldmine of information for anyone wanting to know anything about gardening in cities, whats going on around them, who’s gardening is the Gaza Strip, what books to read, job openings in urban agriculture, the Vertical Farm Projectshitake mushrooms growing in Nepal, or if you want to watch City Farmer TV, go to the City Farmer Forums where you can connect with other urban gardeners and asks all the questions you’d like.

and so, so much more.  It sort of feels like entering one of those old bookstores that been around forever and everyone trusts to have the best opinions and know the newest and latest books… I still find new stuff everytime I go there.  This website sparked my interest in urban agriculture and taught me much of what I know.  I’m just waiting until the time when I can go to Vancouver and see these amazing urban agriculture fiends in person.

Interested or have more questions?  I’ve been in contact with Michael Levenston before and he’s super nice and will get back to you. 

Email: cityfarm@interchange.ubc.ca

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