The unlikely ascent of New York’s compost champion

Read the full story in the New York Times.

An ad led to Domingo Morales falling in love with compost. A windfall is helping him spread the word.

How public libraries are seeding America’s gardens

Read the full story at Eater. See also the University of Illinois Library’s Seed Libraries Research Guide. If you live in the Champaign-Urbana area, check out the Urbana Free Library’s Seed Exchange.

Seed sharing at public libraries date back to at least 2010, and while no one tracks just how such programs many there are across the, but it’s likely the number has now reached into the hundreds. Many started after the pandemic forced people outside and encouraged them to find ways to be more resilient, especially in how they procure food.

Grow tomatoes, not carrots and other tips for keeping lead out of your garden produce

Read the full story from WBEZ.

Chicago soil can contain high levels of lead and other heavy metals. Check out this guide to making gardening safer.

Urban agriculture in Detroit: Scattering vs. clustering and the prospects for scaling up

Read the full story from the University of Michigan.

Despite Detroit’s reputation as a mecca for urban agriculture, a new analysis of the city’s Lower Eastside, which covers 15 square miles, found that community and private gardens occupy less than 1% of the vacant land.

USDA announces inaugural Federal Advisory Committee on Urban Agriculture

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack selected 12 members to serve on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) inaugural Secretary’s Advisory Committee for Urban Agriculture to provide input on policy development and to help identify barriers to urban agriculture as USDA works to promote urban farming and the economic opportunities it provides in cities across the country.

The new Secretary’s Advisory Committee is part of USDA’s efforts to support urban agriculture, creating a network for feedback. Urban agriculture plays an important role in producing fresh, healthy food in areas where grocery stores are scarce, and also provides jobs and beautifies neighborhoods.

“Urban agriculture has been growing in impact and importance, and we are taking bold actions to build a support structure,” said Vilsack. “I look forward to learning how we can better serve urban agricultural producers, which will complement our efforts focusing on equity, local food systems, access to safe and nutritional food and new ways to address climate change.”

U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, Chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, was the architect of the Urban Agriculture Act of 2016. The Act laid the groundwork for historic investments to address the needs of urban farmers in the 2018 Farm Bill, including the Secretary’s Advisory Committee.

“With every new urban farm, rooftop garden, and indoor crop, urban agriculture is helping create jobs, increase green space, and feed friends and neighbors,” said Senator Stabenow. “Michigan has long been a leader in urban agriculture. I’m so glad Jerry and others will be able to lend their expertise and wealth of experience to help grow this important sector. This is a historic opportunity to have their voices heard and shape urban agriculture for the future.”

Secretary’s Advisory Committee for Urban Agriculture

The Committee is made up of agricultural producers, and representatives from the areas of higher education or extension programs, non-profits, business and economic development, supply chains and financing.

Members include:

  • Jerry Ann Hebron, Mich., Urban Producer
  • Bobby Wilson, Ga., Urban Producer
  • Viraj Puri, N.Y., Innovative Producer
  • Kaben Smallwood, Okla., Innovative Producer
  • Sally Brown, Wash., Higher Education
  • John Erwin, Md., Higher Education
  • Carl Wallace, Ohio, Non-Profit Representative
  • John Lebeaux, Mass., Business and Economic Development Representative
  • Zachari Curtis, D.C., Supply Chain Experience
  • Allison Paap, Calif., Financing Entity Representative
  • Tara Chadwick, Fla., Related Experience
  • Angela Mason, Ill., Related Experience

USDA and the Office of Urban Agriculture and Innovative Production peer reviewed more than 300 nominees, and Vilsack made the final selections. Selections ensured geographic, racial and gender diversity and a broad range of agricultural experience. The new members will serve terms of one to three years.

The first meeting of this inaugural committee, which will be open to the public, will take place in late February. More details will be available in the Federal Register and at farmers.gov/urban and the new Federal Advisory Committee for Urban Agriculture website at www.usda.gov/partnerships/advisory-committee-urban-ag-innovative-production.

USDA and Urban Agriculture

The advisory committee and county committees are part of a broad USDA investment in urban agriculture. Other efforts include:

  • Grants that target areas of food access, education, business and start-up costs for new farmers, and development of policies related to zoning and other needs of urban production.
  • Cooperative agreements that develop and test strategies for planning and implementing municipal compost plans and food waste reduction plans.
  • Investing $260,000 for risk management training and crop insurance education for historically underserved and urban producers through partnerships between USDA’s Risk Management Agency (RMA) and the University of Maryland, University of Connecticut, and Michigan State University Center for Regional Food Systems.
  • Providing technical and financial assistance through conservation programs offered by USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).
  • Organizing 11 Farm Service Agency (FSA) urban and suburban county committees. FSA will organize additional committees.

The Office of Urban Agriculture and Innovative Production was established through the 2018 Farm Bill. It is led by NRCS and works in partnership with numerous USDA agencies that support urban agriculture. Its mission is to encourage and promote urban, indoor, and other emerging agricultural practices, including community composting and food waste reduction. More information is available at farmers.gov/urban and the new Federal Advisory Committee for Urban Agriculture website at www.usda.gov/partnerships/advisory-committee-urban-ag-innovative-production.

Additional resources that may be of interest to urban agriculture entities include grants from USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service and National Institute of Food and Agriculture as well as FSA loans.

USDA touches the lives of all Americans each day in so many positive ways. Under the Biden-Harris Administration, USDA is transforming America’s food system with a greater focus on more resilient local and regional food production, fairer markets for all producers, ensuring access to safe, healthy, and nutritious food in all communities, building new markets and streams of income for farmers and producers using climate smart food and forestry practices, making historic investments in infrastructure and clean energy capabilities in rural America, and committing to equity across the Department by removing systemic barriers and building a workforce more representative of America. To learn more, visit usda.gov.

A Delaware vertical farm sees itself as the future of urban agriculture. Can it succeed?

Read the full story at Smart Cities Dive.

Second Chances Farm wants to employ formerly incarcerated people and make agriculture more sustainable, but it faces substantial challenges from the get-go.

Olive-Harvey College breaks ground on hemp greenhouse for cannabis education program

Read the full story in the Chicago Sun-Times.

The college’s urban agriculture program will use the 1,500-square-foot greenhouse to give students hands-on experience in the hemp-growing industry.

How urban planning and housing policy helped create ‘food apartheid’ in US cities

Black neighborhoods have a higher density of fast-food outlets than in white districts. David McNew/Getty Images

by Julian Agyeman (Tufts University)

Hunger is not evenly spread across the U.S., nor within its cities.

Even in the the richest parts of urban America there are pockets of deep food insecurity, and more often than not it is Black and Latino communities that are hit hardest.

As an urban planning academic who teaches a course on food justice, I’m aware that this disparity is in large part through design. For over a century, urban planning has been used as a toolkit for maintaining white supremacy that has divided U.S. cities along racial lines. And this has contributed to the development of so-called “food deserts” – areas of limited access to reasonably priced, healthy, culturally relevant foods – and “food swamps” – places with a preponderance of stores selling “fast” and “junk” food.

Both terms are controversial and have been contested on the grounds that they ignore both the historical roots and deeply racialized nature of food access, whereby white communities are more likely to have sufficient availability of healthy, reasonably priced produce.

Instead, food justice scholar Ashanté M. Reese suggests the term “food apartheid.” According to Reese, food apartheid is “intimately tied to policies and practices, current and historical, that come from a place of anti-Blackness.”

Regardless of what they are called, these areas of inequitable food access and limited options exist. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that 54.4 million Americans live in low-income areas with poor access to healthy food. For city residents, this means they are more than half a mile from the nearest supermarket.

More expensive, fewer options

The development of these areas of limited healthy food options has a long history tied to urban planning and housing policies. Practices such as redlining and yellowlining – in which the private sector and government conspired to restrict mortgage lending to Black and other minority homebuyers – and racial covenants that limited rental and sale property to white people only meant that areas of poverty were concentrated along racial lines.

In addition, homeowner associations that denied access to Black people in particular and federal housing subsidies that have largely gone to white, richer Americans have made it harder for people living in lower-income areas to move out or accrue wealth. It also leads to urban blight.

This matters when looking at food access because retailers are less willing to go into poorer areas. A process of “supermarket redlining” has seen larger grocery stores either refuse to move in to lower-income areas, shut existing outlets or relocate to wealthier suburbs. The thinking behind this process is that as pockets in a city become poorer, they are less profitable and more prone to crime.

There is also, scholars suggest, a cultural bias among large retailers against putting outlets in minority-populated areas. Speaking about why supermarkets were fleeing the New York borough of Queens in the 1990s, the city’s then-Consumer Affairs Commissioner Mark Green put it this way: “First they may fear that they do not understand the minority market. But second is their knee-jerk premise that Blacks are poor, and poor people are a poor market.”

In the absence of larger grocery stores, less healthy food options – often at a higher price – have taken over in low-income areas. Research among food providers in New Haven, Connecticut in 2008 found “significantly worse average produce quality” in lower-income neighborhoods. Meanwhile a study of New Orleans in 2001 found fast-food density was higher in poorer areas, and that predominantly Black neighborhoods had 2.5 fast-food outlets for every square mile, compared to 1.5 in white areas.

‘Whole Foods and whole food deserts’

Geographer Nathan McClintock conducted a detailed study in 2009 of the causes of Oakland’s food deserts. Although restricted to one Californian city, I believe what he found holds true for most U.S. cities.

McClintock details how the development of racially segregated areas in the inter-war period and redlining policies afterward led to concentrated areas of poverty in Oakland. Meanwhile, decisions in the late 1950s by the then all-white Oakland City Council to build major freeways cutting through the city effectively isolated predominantly Black West Oakland from downtown Oakland.

The net effect was an outward flow of capital and white flight to the wealthy Oakland Hills neighborhoods. Black and Latino neighborhoods were drained of wealth.

A Burger King outlet displaying a 'We Accept EBT' poster in the window.
A Burger King in Oakland, Calif. advertising that it accepts benefits issued to low-income families for food. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

This, together with the advent of surburban Oakland supermarkets accessible by car in the 1980s and 1990s, led to a dearth of fresh food outlets in predominantly Black districts such as West Oakland and Central East Oakland. What was left, McClintock concludes, is a “crude mosaic of parks and pollution, privilege and poverty, Whole Foods and whole food deserts.”

Urban planning as a solution

Food disparities in U.S. cities have a cumulative effect on people’s health. Research has linked them to the disproportionately poor nutrition of Black and Latino Americans, even after adjustment for socioeconomic status.

As much as urban planning has been part of the problem, it could now be part of the solution. Some cities have begun using planning tools to increase food equity.

Minneapolis, for example, has as part of its 2040 plan an aim to “establish equitable distribution of food sources and food markets to provide all Minneapolis residents with reliable access to healthy, affordable, safe and culturally appropriate food.” To achieve this, the city is reviewing urban plans, including exploring and implementing regulatory changes to allow and promote mobile food markets and mobile food pantries.

My hometown of Boston is engaged in a similar process. In 2010, the city began the process of establishing an urban agriculture overlay district in the predominantly Black and Latino neighborhood of Dorchester, by changing zoning to allow commercial urban agriculture. This change has provided employment for local people and food for local cooperatives, such as the Dorchester Food Coop, as well as area restaurants.

And this could be just the start. My students and I contributed to Boston mayoral candidate Michelle Wu’s Food Justice Agenda. It includes provisions such as a formal process in which private developers would have to work with the community to ensure there is space for diverse food retailers and commercial kitchens, and licensing restrictions to discourage the proliferation of fast-food outlets in poorer neighborhoods. If Wu is elected and the plan implemented, it would, I believe, provide more equitable access to nutritious and culturally appropriate foods, good jobs and economically vibrant neighborhoods.

As Wu’s Food Justice Agenda notes: “Food justice means racial justice, demanding a clear-eyed understanding of how white supremacy has shaped our food systems” and that “nutritious, affordable, and culturally relevant food is a universal human right.”

Julian Agyeman, Professor of Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning, Tufts University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Florida man uses COVID stimulus to build garden, spread message of food independence

Read the full story at WMNF.

An East Tampa man is gaining notoriety after he used his COVID-19 stimulus check to start a garden at his home. He’s trying to share his produce with the neighborhood and teach others about food independence.

Why Kroger and Publix are bringing the farm to the grocery store

Read the full post at GreenBiz.

Just like every other retailer, grocery stores are focusing on the customer experience to get people back in store. Grocery delivery was already a rising trend, and the pandemic kicked it into the next gear. In May, U.S. online grocery sales had grown to 40 percent. So grocers including Kroger and Publix are looking at onsite vertical farms as one way to attract consumers.