All over the country, a new crop of urban farmers, along with activists and community organizations, are offering fresh solutions to low-income communities struggling with blight and abandonment and lack of access to healthy foods.
City Slicker Farms, based in West Oakland, California, grows vegetables in neighborhood backyards, and sells the produce at farm stands throughout the community, offering crops at a sliding scale: very low-income residents pick up produce for free. In Detroit, community members are using urban agriculture to help revitalize their city’s health outlook. The Detroit Black Community Food Security Network works to empower African Americans by raising awareness about food: where it comes from, who controls it, and the role it plays in building healthy families and communities. The organization has established a four-acre organic farm within the city and organized a food co-op buying club. In Holyoke, Massachusetts, Nuestras Raíces is using urban farming to connect Puerto Rican youth with elders in their community while strengthening ties to their culture through food.
With the recent recession hitting hard, urban agriculture offers a multitude of benefits to low-income communities, including new opportunity in the form of sheltered employment and training programs. Urban farms such as Added Value, in a low-income neighborhood of Brooklyn, have provided job training for more than 175 neighborhood teens. Growing Home in Chicago has trained approximately 150 formerly incarcerated and homeless individuals on its farms since the program began in 2002.
Communities are also finding new hope in repurposing vacant land, creating beautiful, productive, and unifying spaces. Neighborhood Progress, a nonprofit in Cleveland, launched a citywide planning initiative to restore and maintain the health of the community by turning vacant land into urban farms. Cleveland, which has close to 20,000 vacant lots and spends approximately $1,000 to maintain each one, is embracing urban agriculture as a strategy to save money, beautify a community, and improve access to healthy food. The city is working with Neighborhood Progress to create pilot urban agriculture projects throughout the city.
These new innovative efforts, featured in a new PolicyLink report, Growing Urban Agriculture: Equitable Strategies and Policies for Improving Access to Healthy Food and Revitalizing Communities, are just what the country needs. Over 23.5 million Americans lack access to fresh, healthy food, many of them low-income and people of color who suffer disproportionately from high rates of obesity and diet-related diseases. By embracing urban agriculture and Healthy Food Financing Initiatives that bring healthy foods, jobs, job training and a more beautiful environment to struggling communities, the country can help everyone to thrive. The time is ripe for urban agriculture.
Angela Glover Blackwell is founder and CEO of PolicyLink, a national research and action institute advancing economic and social equity by Lifting Up What Works®. Download the new PolicyLink report: Growing Urban Agriculture: Equitable Strategies and Policies for Improving Access to Healthy Food and Revitalizing Communities. To learn more about PolicyLink, visit www.policylink.org.