Over the years, we’ve published many posts about urban agriculture and its many contributions to resilient food system. They tend to get buried, but they offer so much food for thought. This morning, we’re taking a look back at older posts and pulling together a reading list about food resilience and the importance of urban agriculture.
In 2013, Elliot Altbaum wrote a guest post about “what happens when the lights go out.” This year’s hurricanes have reasserted the importance of food resilience, of local agriculture, and the benefits of having a thriving urban agriculture ecology.
When oil and other hydrocarbons become scarce (which they will and must, but a topic for another day) urban and local farming are good solutions. Intense urban farming uses little hydrocarbon but can grow lots of food.
In 2015, we wrote about the pros and cons of a Worcester Food Hub – and why it’s an essential piece of a functioning and resilient local food system. Since then, the Regional Environmental Council, Worcester County Food Bank and other local organizations have partnered to start making a regional food hub a functioning reality.
As this table makes obvious, farmers markets, CSAs and food distribution hubs all have very different roles in a sustainable, long-term food plan for any city or region, and all of them offer different benefits and drawbacks.
Just about a year ago, our manager Martha Assefa put out a call for local food producers and consumers (that’s just about everyone!) to step up in support of a Worcester urban agriculture ordinance. A year later, the zoning ordinance is making its way through the committee process. This early article explains why supporting local agriculture with good food policy contributes to a resilient food system and economic development.
Local food keeps local land in production and local money in the community, often costs less than conventionally produced food, and builds community relations. Decentralized production also reduces food safety risks, as long-distance food can potentially be contaminated at many points on its journey to our plates.
Did you know that the average backyard garden provides up to $200 a year in fresh produce? Or that the presence of a community garden increases property values of homes within 1,000 feet? Would it surprise you that Worcester has about 2,000 acres worth of farmable land that could be producing food for our community? But wait… there’s more!
Thanks to the groundwork laid by so many of our partners, Worcester’s got a good start on the factors that make urban farming successful. Those include a network of partners willing to work with new farmers, a commercial kitchen and incubator where producers and entrepreneurs can use equipment and get help and advice in creating value-added produce, a growing assortment of local restaurants and eateries committed to using locally produced foods, farm-to-school programs, aggregators like Lettuce Be Local who facilitate connections between farmer/vendors and customers, and so much more.
Back in 2014, we wrote about Boston’s Article 89, which served as a base framework for Worcester’s own urban farming ordinance. Though the specifics of the pending urban agriculture zoning ordinance differ (for example, chickens are not included – sad face emoji!) the benefits are still significant.
If we brought a very similar amendment to the zoning code to Worcester, and did it through the same open, transparent, inclusive public process, it would allow for:
An increase in access to healthy food
More business opportunities for a variety of people
The beautification of urban spaces
Use of vacant and underutilized land and space
Economic benefits are often touted when we talk about urban farming initiatives, but how does that actually look and who benefits? In this piece from last summer, we took a look at several small businesses around the country that fit the definition of “food entrepreneurship.” A resilient food system provides opportunities for everyone to benefit.
What is a food entrepreneur, exactly? You may think it refers to farms and restaurants, but there’s so much more to it than just than just those few categories of business. You may think that food entrepreneurs require a lot of startup money, or that it’s something for outside investors. In fact, any business that fits into the food cycle – from seed to table and back to seed – fits into the category of food entrepreneurship. In a lot of cases, food entrepreneurs look an awful lot like you and your neighbors.
This summary of a report published by the Wallace Center laid out some basic assumptions about creating innovative solutions that improve access to healthy foods for everyone and help create a resilient food system that works for all stakeholders. While the report is several years old by now, the conclusions in it still hold true – more than ever.
Fifty million Americans are food insecure, the majority from lower-income communities and are disproportionately people of color. The report calls upon stakeholders to implement creative market-based and non-market based solutions to ensure that all community members receive the healthy, nutritious food they deserve.
We want to see a truly equitable, resilient food system here in Worcester. That’s why we’re still working on getting a comprehensive, equitable urban agriculture zoning ordinance passed for the city of Worcester. Stay tuned and follow us on Facebook for updates and alerts!