From urban farms to rooftop vineyards, recycling facilities, and everything in between, individuals in cities are doing everything they can to support the changing global landscape. The global population has been growing exponentially at unprecedented rates with, for the first time ever in 2008, more people living in cities than they have in the countryside.That’s about 4 billion people living in cities (UNFPA). 80% of all Americans do! But the UNFPA says the trend will only continue, and that in less than 25 years the number will grow to 5 billion.
So what does this mean in terms of food production? Well that with less people in the countryside living on and working the land, there may actually be a scarcity and a surge in prices related to food. In order to accommodate the population shift, individuals, institutions, and the cities themselves are taking ownership over many aspects of the food production processes, pre and post consumption, driving movements like urban farms and community gardens, which encourage the local sourcing of products.
Let’s take a look at some individuals from our tour in NYC and Boston in the urban space who are working to support these efforts:
COMMUNITY GARDENS AND FARMS:
Director, Hattie Carthan Community Garden - Bedstuy, Brooklyn
Cheffie Inspiration: "Food is the journey of our collective ancestors - it’s a story of immigration..."Urban farming for me is a vehicle by which understanding can happen”
Farmer Yon is a barefoot urban farmer/food sovreignty educator and the general coordinator of the Hattie Carthan community food projects ( a 3.625 acre project in NYC consisting of a large historic community garden, an herb farm and two community based markets. Farmer Yon and her farm crew is responsible for growing all of the farms production and for the operation of their 80 member weekly basket program, 2 community based Farmers Markets in NYC, communal dinners, and the Farm Apothecary located on the Hattie Carthan herb farm.
We spent a lot of our time talking about the spirituality of service and growing food and learnt the importance of culture in farming setting this type of agricultural nurturing /food justice work apart from traditional organic farming. Farmer Yon uses a three fold approach to agriculture, spiritual, cultural and ecological. The yards use biodynamic preparations such as homeopathy for soil to infuse the soil with life forces to help fertilize the plants. This year, farmer Yon began working with a Sacred Fire bio char to clear the farm of trace chemicals and to enhance air quality on the farm.
Emphasis is placed on feminine leadership and styles of learning and The cycles of the moon and the stars are used to enhance the growing process, and inform the best time for planting and harvesting. Farmer yon puts all of this knowledge together, and uses popular education pedagogy and music to share and empower community residents of all ages on how to create individual,communal and ecological health.
Cool facts: Farmer Yan was born in Guyana, where her grandmother would always encourage her to ‘read books’ in order to get away from the land, but she never strayed away from her roots, returning to her ‘natural talents’ and loves after 9/11 — music, food, and art — all of which she incorporates on her work at the Garden.
The Garden has bread baking classes as well as winemaking classes, which have been a part of the tradition of the garden since its inception.
RECYCLING AND POST CONSUMPTION:
Community Outreach Coordinator, Sims Recycling Center
Cheffie Inspiration: “More than 50% of stuff that can be recycled is not recycled. Public housing has a 1% diversion rate. Many people probably do it, just not as much as they should.”
Takeaway: The numbers are quite telling. There’s a lot that can and should be done on the consumer end in order to promote a sustainable post-consumption pattern in cities. At the beautiful Sims Recycling Center, which opened in 2013, metal, glass and plastic is recycled from residential locations. According to Quinn, there are many misconceptions when it comes to recycling. Glass is thought to be very sustainable; however, it’s an actual challenge when it comes to recycling. Not all plastic is created equal: number 6 plastic is the hardest to recycle and the plastic that makes milk jugs is the most valuable, which can be recycled multiple times before it’s devalued. Quinn encourages residents to thoroughly clean out the peanut butter from the jar, as it facilitates the recycling process.
Cool facts: It takes the facility just 10 seconds to break up a car.
SUPPORT FOR FARMERS AND CONSUMERS:
Community Manager, Brandworkers
Cheffie inspiration: “Brandworkers is a member-led organization of workers in the local food production industry organizing for dignified jobs and a just food system."
Takeaway: Brandworkers is based in Long Island City, Queens and for the last eight years Brandworkers' members have been working to unlock the potential of local food production using a unique organizing model. Brandworkers serves as a community where workers develop their leadership and learn how to build their own campaigns for sustainable wages, benefits, and a voice at work. Brandworkers insist that employers accept freedom of association on the job so that organized workers on can maintain and improve job quality gains for years to come. Brandworkers members have achieved dramatic victories in a variety of factories including substantial improvements in wages and working conditions and the recovery of millions of dollars in illegally withheld pay. We have a long way to go certainly, but Brandworkers has certainly turned the tide on exploitation in the industry and have strong momentum towards creating a local food production industry with dignity for every worker.
Cool Facts: Brandworkers has recovered over $1,000,000 in wage theft
Assistant Manager, Food Sourcing, Procurement & Logistics, City Harvest
Cheffie inspiration: “We take food from a place of abundance to a place of need”
Takeaway: The aim of City Harvest is to ‘rescue, deliver, and empower’. They do this by literally going to all segments of the food industry, (from restaurants to farms, markets and greenmarkets) and picking up leftovers to distribute overnight within the 5 boroughs. “Night to night”, we end hunger, Eric says. They’re like the Spidermen of food! Their ultimate aim is to reduce food waste by 55 million pounds this year. In addition to their work rescuing food, City Harvest members also do shopping and cooking demos and help instruct corner store owners to change their produce to be healthier for the community.
Cool Facts: City Harvest cannot rescue food that’s already been served.
Farm to Pantry Manager, Just Food
Cheffie inspiration: “[We’re] debunking the myth that farm-to-table could only work in wealthier neighborhoods"
Takeaway: Just food is an organization bridging the gap between farmers and consumers, aiming to provide NYC communities access to local, healthy food that is within their financial reach. They work closely to assist in the development of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), by linking groups to farmers who provide the produce within a 250 mile-radius. The farmers benefit because they’re paid up front, and the individuals win because they are provided with healthy, local ingredients.
Cool Facts: 250 miles is the farthest that Just Food calls a farm ‘local’ because it is how far farmers are able to travel to and from the farm, in order to service deliveries in one day.
The produce that they purchase for the farm-pantry-program is funded by the New York State Department of Health.
Urban Farmer, Randall’s Island Park Alliance
Cheffie inspiration: “We try to have a microcosm of different environments right here in NYC. For example, the rice patties have live fishes in them"
Takeaway: Yes, there’s a full-fleshed farm in NYC. Randall’s Island is home to this beauty, which grows everything from cucumbers to juniper berries and okra with the ultimate mission of servicing local communities in Harlem and the Bronx, but also to educate the multitude of city children who may never have had such a connection to their food otherwise. Nicholas tells the stories of grandparents who are so excited to share stories of their home countries by using the ‘okra' at the farm to tell about their past in ‘Trinidad' or ‘Japan’.
Cool Facts: The chickens at the farm are donated to the Edible Schoolyard in East Harlem.
Founder, Rooftop Reds
Cheffie inspiration: "It’s not just about selling product in NYC but also exposing what the whole state has to offer”
Takeaway: After building two successful businesses in the past, Devin pursued his passion for wine by building the world’s first rooftop viticulture farm. He was able to transcend the bureaucracy associated with establishing a business in such a young industry, creating a space where wine — from its production to fermentation and consumption — is all done in one space. The wine is 100% natural and 100% herbal, and 100% NY! Devin uses traditional Bordeaux viticulture methods in his vineyard. Through his transformation of the urban space, he is inspiring similar initiatives from Germany to Japan. It started with a KickStarter campaign. 2.5 years since that ‘idea moment’, Devin prepares to launch in 2016.
Cool Facts: Devin and his team are teaching viticulture to people with disabilities in order to eventually hire them next year.
COMMUNITY GARDENS AND URBAN FARMS:
Farm Manager, Big City Farms
Cheffie inspiration: “It’s common for people to be organic farmers who can't afford to be organic… our aim is to eventually give our employees part of the company”
Takeaway: Big city farms is a certified B Corporation, which means that instead of just focusing on profits, it has a ‘triple bottom line’, including but not limited to focusing on people, planet, and profit. Big City Farms, as its name suggests is the largest city farm in Baltimore. It aims for its framework to be easily replicable, aiming to establish its brand in Washington DC. next. At the moment, the farm cultivates about 1500 lbs of (mostly leafy) greens each week by establishing ’network farms’ on over 5 acres of land. They sell their produce to farmers markets, restaurants and local universities in the area. They owe much of their success to Baltimore’s ‘adopt a lot’ program, which facilities the repurposing of an empty lot for farming purposes at a minimal price.
Cool Facts: Big City Farms provides jobs for formerly incarcerated individuals
Michel Cavigelli + Cathy Greene
Work via the USDA on matters of organic farming
Cheffie inspiration: “It’s more than just producing food – it’s about protecting the environment, ----- not just about improving our food, but also about reducing the negative effect; we've never increased food production as fast as we currently need to to meet projected global food demand, and it's causing problems; so the question is, how do we grow sufficient food while reducing negative impacts of agriculture?” - Michel Cavigelli
Takeaway: Did you know that the United States Department of Agriculture has been conducting research on organic farming methods for over 20 years? Well, a research project in Maryland is specifically dedicated to this matter and has been in operation since 1996! Michel Cavigelli, in charge of organic research at the USDA Agricultural Research Service in Beltsville, Maryland has been doing so since its inception, testing for best measures for over 20 years. At the research station, 5 systems are tested, 3 organic and 2 traditional, hoping to arrive at an answer about which system is most sustainable. As we learned, the answer is never simple and highly variable, depending greatly on the weather.
Cool Facts: The difference between EU and American certified organic is in the manure. The EU can't use chicken manure from animals that have not been certified organic. In the US we can use animal manure from any source—i.e. the animals don’t need to be certified organic.However, in the EU you can transition into an organic patch of land after 2 years, whereas here, it can only be done after 3 year.
Farm Manager, Whitelock Community Farm
Cheffie inspiration: “There’s a trend where people come here and fall in love with it and end up turning it into their livelihood”
Takeaway: The Whitelock Community Farm was another success story of Baltimore’s adopt-a-lot program. After the 1968 Baltimore riots, much of the once-thriving business area area was left empty. In 2010, a group of community members started the garden, which is now in its 5th season and successfully grows over 30 different kinds of crops each year, including berries, cucumber, squash, garlic, greens, chard, and kale. It’s enough food for over 25 CSAs. The farm also serves as an educational tool for children at the farm and even in classrooms where Alison is a regular, instructing children and university students alike.
Cool Facts: For just $1/year, Alison says, they are able to transform this lovely space into one that fosters community building.
Owner, Just Juice It
Cheffie inspiration: “My grandmother would make me come inside from playing in the garden to help her juice"
Takeaway: Andre is one of many individuals who has a stand at the Baltimore Farmer’s Market. At 17 years old, Andre remembers his grandmother cultivating fresh fruits and vegetables, named her 'Victory Garden’ after the end of World War I.
Cool Facts: The Baltimore Farmer’s market is Maryland's largest producers-only market.
Worker-owner, Red Emma’s
Cheffie inspiration: "I am from NYC myself but moved to Baltimore for college, and after graduation decided to stay because this beautiful city had so much happening at the cross section of food and justice."
Takeaway: Their mission statement says it all: 'first, to demonstrate, concretely, that it’s possible to build institutions that directly put values like sustainability and democracy to work, and second, in doing so, to build a resource for movements for social justice here in Baltimore’. They support this mission by providing the community with a space that is both vegetarian coffee shop, bookstore and school, and infoshop.
Cool facts: Red Emma’s is cooperatively owned, meaning that everyone running the establishment owns an equal share of the business, and has an equal say in the decisions made!
Red Emma’s is so named after Emma Goldman — an anarchist and revolutionary in 19th-20th century America
RECYCLING AND POST CONSUMPTION:
Director, Healthy Harbor Initiative
Cheffie inspiration: “The goal is to put the water wheel out of business - we believe working upstream is a better way to keep the trash out”
Takeaway: The Healthy Harbor Initiative is pioneering many efforts to improve the quality of the water in Baltimore Harbor, and by that same token, the quality of the food of the city. Adam calls this, 'Blue Urbanism’ encouraging establishing a connection to the water. They have quite an audacious goal to - by 2020- have all of Baltimore Habor’s water cleaned. I believe in the success of this goal. In just two years, they were able to put into effect the world’s first ‘Water Wheel’, which uniquely removes garbage from the harbor by way of using a mechanical ramp to elevate it and collect it into large industrial garbage shipping containers. Videos of the water wheel have gone viral (see below) and have inspired other cities around the world to want to build the same. The Initiative aims to launch its second water wheel by next year 2016.
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