Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Food where once was nothing; Gardens at food pantries

The surge in popularity of urban agriculture is still growing around the country, with once-booming metropolitan areas rediscovering their agrarian roots and realizing the potential of unused land. Detroit has become the poster-city for urban ag, with its vast acreage of abandoned land, a veritable food desert inside the city limits and its dilapidated industrial base. Oakland is another city at the forefront of the urban ag movement. The University of California at Berkeley released this comprehensive study last month [pdf] which gathered data on all the unused land in the Bay Area and its potential if retooled to grow food. But because of other factors (poor soil quality, manufacturing pollution, et cetera) cities have a number of hurdles to clear before they can realistically grow enough food to feed their densely populated communities.

Rural areas have it a little easier. We have far more land, fewer mouths to feed and relatively fertile soil. We are surrounded by farmland and have a good number of farmers and agriculture professionals at the ready. Through the Clinton County Fresh Network, we're hoping to connect those food-farmers to people in our community and make it viable for newcomers to take up the spade and contribute to our local food economy.

Along those lines, we've been researching effective ways to utilize public and private space for food production. Edible landscaping is something we're interested in, but there may be other ways to use space and for local agencies to supplement their food distribution by planting gardens on-site. We have a number of organizations in Clinton County that collect and distribute food to those in need, and they are stretched especially thin when the economy struggles to turn upward. By planting vegetable plots on their own land and having volunteers who already help within the agency manage the gardens, food pantries could supplement their own outreach tremendously. There are several good models around the country of organizations that plug-in surplus food (either gleaned from farms or backyard gardens) to food kitchens, specifically Ample Harvest and America's Grow a Row. But, after having done some research, I haven't come across any models for establishing gardens on site at food pantries. If you know of any, please contact us or leave a comment on this post.

It's all food for thought, and it's something we're excited and willing to explore.

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