I think it’s safe to say that many of us have heard about the dangers of mass, industrial agriculture. From swine flu to peanut butter and spinach-induced e-coli, to salmonilla, the finger always points back to crowded, unnatural, inhumane agricultural conditions.
It’s probably also safe to assume that by now the message of “organic and locally-grown is more nutritious” is hitting home and more folks seem to be supporting local farms, markets, and growing their own food. There are huge health and financial benefits (in terms of savings) to be gleaned from eating this way, for sure.
There’s still the disturbing notion that “all this local food is great, but what about for the urban poor? ”
Their access to farms is often extremely limited, and resources or space to grow their own gardens is next to nil. Never mind that even if there was access, there are no funds. Heck, the farmers themselves are often among the poor; barely making it from year to year, but doing it out of love. They have to pay their bills too. Some farms do accept WIC and Food Stamp benefits, which is awesome, but I’m sure there’s a lot of red tape involved in acquiring this ability, which prevents small farms from doing this.
Nevertheless, this question I often wrestle with. Very recently, in fact, I was taking a long walk by an abandoned mobile home park (we’re talking over 100 acres of land, all abandoned for no apparent reason). I couldn’t help but look at all of that empty land and wonder how many tons of fresh local meat and produce it could likely produce for the hungry living all around it. Just blocks away is a Title 1 elementary school, a designation reserved for schools serving the poorest of the poor. You can see it in the half dozen or so apartment homes that you pass as you walk down this street.
The sad thing is that these Title 1 neighborhood dwellers are doing most of their shopping at a local discount “big box” grocery store which, to be fair, does sell a fair amount of locally-grown produce items. But by and large, the clientele are stocking up on lots of cheap preservative-laden foods (I don’t judge them! We all do what we have to do) as they are the most convenient, affordable, and accessible.
Maybe I’m painting with broad strokes, if so please forgive me. I’m not above shopping at this store myself, and do so often to find the best deals on certain items. What you cannot, EVER find at this store, however, is good quality meat, eggs, and dairy which are arguably the most nutrient-dense items. I couldn’t help but think of that abandoned trailer park, with potential to hold a diverse array of poultry, beef, and pork as well as eggs and dairy. Not to mention vegetables and fruit. The land is prime in terms of location and sun. It’s all flat….perfect for a farm.
Or, more likely, a subdivision of McMansions. I hope it’s not too judgemental of me to assume that the owner is holding out for a good offer for his land.
But what about if the county and a non-profit of some sort were to step in and buy the land? What if they were to create just the place envisioned above? And the upwards of 12% of our local residents who are jobless and hungry could spend time working the land and reaping its bounty?
It seems too simple almost. Surely there are complicated bureaucratic roadblocks to this, I thought, but one can only dream. I can’t begin to imagine how to implement this, but recently I saw that some Multnomah County higher-ups had the same idea (well, almost). An abandoned, county-owned property on the east end of town was sitting vacant. The land had formerly actually been a “poor farm” during the Great Depression. Recently, the county approved the creation of a 2-acre garden whose harvest would be donated to the Oregon Food bank to provide the needy with fresh, organic fruits and vegetables. You can read the entire inspiring story here.
I am so excited about this project; it totally has renewed my hope in local government. If you are interested in being part of the effort to bring local food to the hungry in your area, here are a few ideas and resources you might want to explore:
- Attend school district board meetings or local parks and recreation meetings with a land use proposal. Remember, you can grow a lot on a couple of acres!!!
- Contact local churches asking if some land can be designated for garden space.
- Talk to your local Food Bank and ask them where they currently get their fresh produce.
- Find out what local grassroots efforts you have around you, and support them.
If you’re in the Seattle-area, you might enjoy reading about this 8-acre organic farm that supplies all its food to the local food banks.
Farm-share is a non-profit food bank delivering surplus produce to low-income folks in Florida.
Zenger Farm is here in Portland and offers many educational outreach opportunities for immigrants and refugees.
If you know of any similar efforts in your locale, please post a link in the comments section below!
This post is a part of Fight Back Fridays! over at Food Renegade!