The Lexicon of Sustainability

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Over 80% of Americans live in urban areas. Urban agriculture is a story of growing food on windy rooftops, in once vacant lots and empty warehouses. As Eli Zigas of San Francisco’s SPUR explains it: “Urban agriculture’s real contribution is…in the number of people it touches who can then understand and learn about food, how we grow it and how it feeds us.”

Novella Carpenter knows the story. Alongside other urban farmers, Novella grows nutritious food on the vacant lot of an impoverished West Oakland, California community that would otherwise be a food desert. Will Allen knows it, too. He’s sprouted a good food revolution in Milwaukee and it’s growing across the Midwest.

On the East Coast, MIT’s CityFARM has gathered engineers, architects, urban planners, economists and plant scientists to explore and develop new ways to grow food in highly-urban areas with less chemical inputs. In New York City, Jon Feldman and Eddie Diaz’s beekeeping operation was once illegal, but the buzz they created shifted local policy around urban apiaries, benefiting urban farmers, backyard gardeners, and bees suffering from colony collapse. Their neighbor, Ben Flanner, of Brooklyn Grange Farm knows the challenges of urban farming. Though the Grange is located entirely on rooftop gardens, it soars, supplying produce to local restaurants, at farmers markets and a local CSA.

Craig Ruggless and Gary Jackemuk of Winnetka Farms practice hyper-local food production, turning the backyard of their suburban home in Southern California’s San Fernando Valley into a sprawling urban farm. Perhaps Seattle Urban Farm Company’s Colin McCrate says it best, “Y.I.M.B.Y., Yes! In my backyard!”.

Like these urban farmers, Mary Seton Corboy of Greensgrow Philadelphia Project knows, “You have to plant yourself along with your seeds right in the community that you’re trying to serve.”

Dr. Wayne Roberts, former director of the Toronto Food Policy Council, has spent a great deal of time considering how cities, food and people intersect and how we might feed the world’s expanding population.

Nourish Initiative Chef Bryant Terry’s lends insight into the rise of urban farming and its importance in building healthy communities, engaging young people, and bringing fresh, homegrown food to cities.

Southern Foodways Alliance highlights the cultural implications of urban farming with Jones Valley Urban Farm, while Sara Fulton-Koerbling, also based in the South, shares a story about the Arkansas-based collective to which she belongs to encourage people to start their own local urban gardening groups.

These tales of urban agriculture are strengthened when we use an even wider lens. Perennial Plate takes us to urban farms in China with “Tale of Two Cities”, Food Tank> explores how urban agriculture can help Central American cities, and Sustainable Food Trust >explores what a rooftop revolution looks like.

Inspired? Wondering how you can activate urban farming in your area? Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health student, Melissa Poulsen’s thoughtful research on “Integrating Urban Farms into the Social Landscapes of Cities” may provide a few answers. Share your own insights and discoveries about urban farming by joining the Food List!

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