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The urban harvest

 Street Speech (USA) 24 May 2019

(Originally published: 10/2009) It’s Harvest Time again. Agriculture doesn’t just help farmers in the country side. It can also help those in needy urban areas. Urban agriculture within its broadest meaning is the practice of cultivating, processing and distributing food around a city, town or village. It not only focuses on locally grown food, but healthy and sustainable food as well. This movement is expressed in many forms around the U.S.A. (725 words) - By Michael Hasse

It shouldn't come as any big surprise that there are urban areas worldwide that have little or no access to fresh, healthy food on a daily basis. According to Local Matters, a Columbus, USA, organization that runs an urban agricultural program, this problem even exists in such local Franklin County communities such as Franklinton, Hilltop, Linden and the Southside of Columbus.

 

It is long established that the lack of fresh, healthy food can lead to higher rates of obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and other diet-related diseases with the biggest impact usually on the poor. A 2008 study at the California Center for Public Health Advocacy and the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research found links between local food environments and diseases such as diabetes and obesity. This research reiterates the connect between lack of healthy food, certain diseases, and income.

 

There are an increasing number of grass roots organizations attempting to solve this food problem. One of the most accomplished of the groups is the Washington Sustainable Food Farming Network (WSFFN), a Washington state coalition that includes farmers, community groups, environmental associations, natural food organizations, educators and individuals. WSFFN has proven to be successful on many fronts, such as advocacy, policy and funding. The organization secured a much-sought-after $500,000 federal statewide grant for local community projects; moreover, it successfully influenced the state Department of Health to allow low-income participants in the Women, Infants and Children program to use their program coupons to purchase organic food. Great strides like this have been made all over the country, in what has been a national urban agriculture movement.

 

Urban agriculture within its broadest meaning is the practice of cultivating, processing and distributing food around a city, town or village. It not only focuses on locally grown food, but healthy and sustainable food as well. This movement is expressed in many forms around the U.S.

 

There are more traditional garden farms where individuals in high density urban areas grow fruits and vegetables on their balconies or roofs, largely for their own consumption. This method can be achieved by the prototype of 'vertical farms.' The most ambitious one to date, described by The New York Times last year, was conceived by Professor Dickson Despommier of Columbia University, who proposed 30-story towers that could feed as many as 50,000 people.

 

There are also more government and community-based projects. These usually involve the government opening a plot of land for public farming, and then allocating portions of the land to individuals. Community based programs can also be run by nongovernmental organizations that hire students or utilize volunteers to grow food that is then sold or given away.

 

But why now the big push for urban agriculture?

 

Some argue it enhances food security by increasing the amount of food available to people in general, and because of its accessibility to urban areas. Food safety is also increased because food that is locally grown is handled and contaminated less than processed or shipped food. Overall, it reduces food-related illness and disease. In growing food locally there are large energy savings because the need to transport food over distances is eliminated.  Locally growing also means that foods will be fresher because the time in transport is eliminated.

 

Along with saving money, it creates opportunities to spend and make money. Urban agriculture can improve a local economy by creating jobs through production, processing, packaging and marketing food - jobs that otherwise wouldn't exist, and jobs that can be performed by unskilled and semi-skilled individuals.

 

With such an energy, health and economy-wise alternative, it's no wonder the urban agriculture wave has hit Columbus. One such local organization promoting agriculture in the city is Local Matters. According to its mission, Local Matters collaborates with its neighborhood partners "to plan, cultivate and grow local food through the creation of urban farms."  This program also helps neighborhoods interested in starting their own community gardens to connect to Local Matters' community partners who can assist them. Aside from farming assistance, Local Matters provides educational programs in sustainable agriculture and supports local farmers, according to their website, www.local-matters.org.

 

What is becoming increasingly obvious is that grassroots organizations, particularly those focused on urban agriculture are helping to alleviate the problem of the availability of fresh and healthy foods in local urban communities and no doubt will play an even bigger role in the future.

 

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