Reclaiming our food sovereignty

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With this blog, I have explored the myriad variables that influence how and what we place on our tables. Food is a key part of our day, our lives, and our connection with each other and the planet. We cannot afford to sacrifice quality, natural products for corporate gain and convenience. Processed and fast foods are much more expensive than the “everyday low price” that they claim. We are spending countless dollars to treat our malnourished bodies and land.

Communities have the power to create their own food sovereignty. Local food production liberates people from the tight grip of addicting processed foods. We are all capable of growing food, of taking control of our diets, and demanding fresh and delicious fruits and vegetables.

Nutritious food is a right and it should not have to be expensive or special. We rely on the federal government to supply the nutritional assistance programs but it is up to cities and communities to produce properly diverse and beneficial food supplies.

When we grow in cities and support small and mid-size farmers, we are supporting the future of food. These are the farmers will grow crops over than corn, soybean, and wheat. They will care about the impact on the land and about their consumers.

Local food systems address the needs of a community and provide the nutritious food necessary to lead a productive life. When residents get involved and collaborate, amazing new innovations occur. We create more safe, fun, and green places that empower populations to control their own fate. Food is revolutionary by nature. The more we come together with resources and ideas, the more power we will have over our food choices.

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What motivates the urban agriculture movement?

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Americans are building development projects over farmland. According to the American Farmland Trust and the 2007 National Resources Inventory, 4,1324,800 acres of rural land were converted between 1982 and 2007. As I stated in a previous post, a majority of healthy foods are grown in vulnerable areas for development. Therefore, sustainable land use is central to the healthy food revolution.

Urban populations are growing rapidly and many communities are at risk for low-access to fresh food. Conveniently, there is land that can be un-developed; in 2001, 15.4% of urban lands were vacant (Schless-Meier, 2013). Vacant lots often represent economic decline; they are desolate and unproductive. High concentrations of abandoned lots inhabit low-income communities, which must deal with the depreciated property values and crime that the vacant lots promote (Schless-Meier, 2013). The most logical, beneficial, and transformational thing to do with these properties: grow on them.

There are a number of ways to operate urban agriculture. Commercial farms are owned by a farmer that sells produce for profit. Institutional farms are operated by an organization or group  ; produce can be sold or used for other collective farming purposes. Farmers can use Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), so that consumers can “subscribe” to their produce on a weekly basis. Community gardens are usually maintained by a group of people that grow the food to consume for themselves or give away. Sometimes community gardens are organized by a group that rent out plots for individual use.

The suitable location for these changes is near urban centers. Urban agriculture has a number of benefits to a community’s environment, social interactions, health, and economy. Urban farming adds important green space that is depleted from urban sprawl. It reduces carbon emissions by growing food nearby, opposed to the thousands of miles food travels now (Howard). Farms reduce water runoff, create shade, and reduce the heat island effect in cities (Howard).

Urban agriculture also positively impacts the health of cities. Adults who live with someone participating in a community garden were 3.5 times more likely to consume fruits and vegetables five times a day compared to someone who does not (Alaimo, Packnett, Miles, & Kruger, 2008). Urban farms often offer cooking and nutrition classes that teach urban dwellers how to cook the food that they grow (Design Trust for Public Space, 2012). Where there is proximity for fresh food and the opportunity to grow our own fruits and vegetables, it will improve our connection to healthy food.

Urban farms can also improve local economies. Food is delivered faster because it is traveling very few miles. Therefore, stores can restock more often and waste less food. There are more opportunities to buy directly from farmers or to grow your own food, so the selections are mark-up free. One can receive six dollars worth of vegetables for every one dollar invested in an urban garden (James, 2012). Also, in local markets there is a deeper awareness of the supply and demand, the cultural preferences, and behavior of the consumers (James, 2012). Most importantly, the income stays within the community instead of a multinational corporation. And this income goes toward healthy food, which will save everyone money from medical costs.

Urban agriculture utilizes all the strengths of a community: collaboration, hard work, utilizing existing resources, and social capital. As our agricultural land depletes, we must begin to create our own green and productive spaces for the betterment of our towns and cities. I will explore some urban farm movements and their impact on cities in my next post.

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All from National Geographic: Urban Farming Is Growing a Green Future

Alaimo, K., Packnett, E., Miles, R.A., & Kruger, D.J. (2008). Fruit and vegetable intake among urban community gardeners. Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, 40, 43-101. doi: 10.1016/j.jneb.2006.12.003.

Howard, B.C. Urban farming is growing a green future: Green Gotham. National Geographic. Retrieved from: http://environment.nationalgeographic.com/environment/photos/urban-farming/#/earth-day-urban-farming-new-york-rooftop_51631_600x450.jpg

James, Adam. (2012). How urban farming can transform our cities – And our agricultural system. Think Progress. Retrieved from: http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2012/05/29/491271/how-urban-farming-can-transform-our-cities-and-our-agricultural-system/

Metrics Framework. (2012). Design Trust for Public Space. Retrieved from: http://www.fiveboroughfarm.org/impact/

Schleiss-Meier, Adrien. (2013, July 26). K(no)w Vacancy: From NY to PA, urban land maps support reclaiming abandoned lots. Civil Eats. Retrieved from: http://civileats.com/2013/07/26/know-vacancy-from-new-york-to-philadelphia-urban-land-maps-support-communities-in-reclaiming-abandoned-lots/

What’s happening to our farmland?. American Farmland Trust. Retrieved from: http://www.farmland.org/resources/fote/default.asp

Introduction to the food system

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Take a minute to consider all the things you have eaten today. What were some of the ingredients and where were they sourced? How was it made? What companies were involved?

Some of these questions may be difficult to answer, even after checking the label and various websites. Food and nutrients are intrinsic to our culture, daily life, and wellbeing. Yet, many of us accept our food sources at face value. It can be overwhelming to consider all the implications and sources of every pre-packaged meal and snack.

A “food system” is a term used to describe the processes to produce, package, transport, distribute, consume, and dispose of our food. The system also includes a variety of inputs from consumers, policies, businesses, and communities. National policies heavily influence the amount of support and subsidies that certain parts of the process receive.  Investment has a significant impact on federal agencies that develop the policies, such as the US Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration. The imbalance of power in the system is rapidly increasing the gap between food and people, both physically and cognitively. Large corporations are gaining far too much momentum without the consideration of the environment, communities, and health.

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The Food System – Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems Social Issues Team and Elliott Kuhn (graphic artist), 2004.

The absurdly high rates of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and food insecurity are a direct result of their policies. In 2012, 14.5% of households were food insecure, which means 49 million Americans are going hungry (Colman-Jensen, Nord, & Singh, 2013). In addition, the annual medical cost of obesity in the US is about $147 billion (Finklestein, Trogdon, Cohen, & Dietz, 2009). The issue is not with production, but with the distribution, access, and marketing of the wrong types of food. The “Value Menu” causes detrimental, hidden costs on all levels of the system.

Positive change must begin through the empowerment of farmers, consumers, and community initiatives to change the food culture of our nation. Local and regional markets of healthy produce help farmers diversify their supply. Building infrastructure that connects farmers to consumers will expand access to affordable, fresh food. Then, with real evidence and demand from around the country, we can change destructive food policies.

References:

Finkelstein, E. A., Trogdon, J. G., Cohen, J.W., & William Dietz. (2009). Annual Medical Spending Attributable to Obesity: Payer-And Service-Specific Estimates. Health Affairs, 28(5). Retrieved from: Health Affairs.

Coleman-Jensen, A., Nord, M., & Singh, A.. (2013). Household Food Security in the United States in 2012. USDA ERS. Retrieved from: USDA ERS.