Archive for the ‘Urban Farms’ Category

Seattle Will Soon Boast America’s Largest Food Forest

Photo by Oast House Archive. Some rights reserved.

In what can be seen as a prime example of classic “quirky” Pacific Northwest innovation, city planners broke ground earlier this month on a project to develop the nation’s largest public “food forest” right here in Knowledge Mosaic’s home city of Seattle (seems only fitting, as Seattle lost its “Fun Forest” in 2009). The inspiration for the food forest comes from the concept of permaculture, which promotes sustainable living through innovative agricultural design. The idea can be applied to energy, architecture, and in this case, urban farming.

The Beacon Food Forest has been in the pipeline since 2009, and takes its name from the neighborhood in which it will be built, South Seattle’s Beacon Hill (for you locals: stretching seven blocks on the southwest side of Jefferson Park, not too far from where two Green Mien contributors went to high school!). The project has been gaining momentum thanks to fundraising efforts by active members of the community, and the story has been picking up some traction in the environmental blog circuit. I won’t say too much about it myself, having only found out about the project today (embarrassingly, considering I read the Stranger, and they’ve been covering it since September), but I would recommend Robert Mellinger’s article in Crosscut for a thorough primer, with lots of quotes and intriguing tidbits:

Further down the path an edible arboretum full of exotic looking persimmons, mulberries, Asian pears, and Chinese haws will surround a sheltered classroom for community workshops. Looking over the whole seven acres, you’ll see playgrounds and kid space full of thornless mini edibles adjacent to community gardening plots, native plant areas, a big timber-frame gazebo and gathering space with people barbecuing, a recreational field, and food as far as you can see.

Sounds like paradise! Here’s hoping that this project is seen all the way to fruition (terrible joke, sorry folks!). No word yet on when the food forest is likely to be completed, but we’ll keep our eyes peeled (ugh).

An Encouraging Spike in Local Food Sales

Photo by Corey Templeton. Some rights reserved.

Living in Seattle can sometimes skew one’s sense of where we are as a country. At least as far as access to quality local and organic foods, it’s always seemed to me that we have it better here than most. Our farmer’s markets are a sight to behold! And they’re in every neighborhood! However, I am aware that Seattle does not own the concept of quality local foods, and that an increased national awareness of the dangers of GMOs and pesticides found in big business produce as well as a rise of urban farms and local markets must have some positive effect on the way the rest of America has been shopping.

And lo and behold! A new USDA study analyzing the 2008 Agricultural Resource Management Survey (ARMS) to assess the role of the local food market in the larger financial picture found that sales of local foods were responsible for $4.8 billion in revenue in 2008, and that we’re on course for that figure to rise to $7 billion this year. This figure takes into account all sales to local restaurants and markets, as well as expansion through farmers markets and online sales, but nevertheless, it’s an encouraging positive trend for fans of good, local food that supports small, local farms (of course local doesn’t always mean better, and it certainly doesn’t mean organic, but that’s another matter). According to the study, small farms (those with less than $50,000 in gross annual sales) accounted for 81 percent of all farms reporting local food revenue in 2008, averaging $7,800 in sales per farm. It also shows that the number of farmers markets nationwide has nearly doubled in the last decade, from 2,756 in 1998 to 5,274 in 2009.

While this data isn’t a definitive statement that the sustainable foods movement is going to triumph over Monsanto and GMOs, it does show an encouraging positive trend in the amount of consumers going direct to the source for their meats and produce. One of the biggest complaints I hear from shoppers is that the organic foods at high quality stores like Whole Foods and PCC are so expensive, and as a twenty-something with a limited grocery budget, I can certainly see where they’re coming from. But by taking advantage of farmer’s markets and/or CSA boxes, we can get great food for much cheaper, and support local farms!



Walmart’s Million Dollar Baby

Photo by OrganicNation. Some rights reserved.

Why did the former NBA forward decide to start a farm in urban Milwaukee? Sounds a little like the start of a really dull joke, right? Founded in 1993, Growing Power was conceived by former Miami Hurricane Will Allen, conceived as an urban farm that would employ African American farmers in an otherwise low-income, low-employment area of Milwaukee, with a focus on hiring at-risk youth. The goal was to foster a system of sustainable food growth (both produce and livestock), and to better the surrounding community through the creation of several local gardens and education-centered events. In the time since its inception, Growing Power has received several words of praise for its positive contributions to its community, and has received several vital grants for funding: In 2005, Growing Power was awarded $100,000 from the Ford Foundation, Allen earned a MacArthur Foundation Genius Grant in 2008 (which comes with $500,000 in funds), and in 2009, received $400,000 from the Kellogg Foundation. Allen has used the funding to bolster educational programming and to hire on new employees, and has started a second Growing Power in Chicago with his daughter.

Outside Funding for Growing Power, then, is essential to keeping it operational and allowing it to expand as an organization. In a 2009 NY Times magazine article on Allen, author Elizabeth Royte writes that:

“…it’s not clear yet whether Growing Power’s model can work elsewhere. ‘I know how to make money growing food,’ Allen asserts. But he’s also got between 30 and 50 employees to pay, which makes those foundation grants — and a grant-writer — essential. Growing Power also relies on large numbers of volunteers. All of which perhaps explains why other urban farmers have not yet replicated Growing Power’s scale or its unique social achievements.”

All that could change soon, as last week, chain-store leviathan Walmart made a $1.01 million donation to the organization, intended to provide the organization with (to quote a Walmart press release) “structural support, staff training, community education and strategies for success.” Though Allen has received support from some corporate entities in the past, this donation from Walmart has some environmentalists question the company’s motives. Andy Fisher at Civil Eats takes a considered look at both sides, but argues that “the broader interests of these two parties are in direct opposition to each other,” while Michele Simon at describes the move as “philanthropy to win over potential critics.” Another Grist blogger, Tom Laskawy, points out that Walmart has plans to build 15 stores in the southern Wisconsin area:

The math (from Walmart’s perspective) is simple: It’s spending $1 million for community goodwill that will, it hopes, defuse the kinds of grassroots hostility that can arise in communities when a multinational chain moves in and all but decimates the small businesses in the area.

And of course, considering Walmart’s somewhat shaky corporate track record, skepticism in this matter would probably not be misplaced. But of course, Allen and Growing Power need the funding, and as he writes on the Growing Power blog, “we can no longer refuse to invite big corporations to the table of the Good Food Revolution.” And considering that Walmart just this year launched an initiative to provide healthier private-label foods, in partnership with Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign. The gesture towards healthier living was also met with some cynicism, but as Corby Kummer at the Atlantic sums up at the end of a lengthy article examining the possibly nefarious angles that could be at play in such a deal:

Whatever you think about Walmart, it looks to be using its clout to help people who don’t have the time, money, or opportunity to eat better.

So perhaps, then, the fuss over Walmart’s million dollar donation to Growing Power may be a little sensational. The organization could use the money to try and start more branches in other poverty-stricken cities, or for any number of equally worthy endeavors. Only time will tell, of course, and of course there is a PR upswing for Walmart in this kind of highly-publicized corporate do-gooding, but maybe-just-maybe there are a few good intentions mixed in there too.

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