Monday, June 14, 2010

Your local farmer could be YOU!

Urban farming, or at least the idea of urban farming, is very of the moment. From the Obamas' Organic Garden at the White House to plans to fill the empty blighted spaces in Detroit with agriculture, the cultural zeitgeist of local, organic, accessible food is hard to avoid, and for good reason. Local agriculture reduces the environmental impacts of transportation (some statistics assert that the average food item travels 1,500 miles to get to our tables) and enables people to eat crops that are in season and are best suited to ones area. Fresh produce is often hard to come by in some urban neighborhoods, where grocery stores are either limited in space or even non-existent, and convenience stores are the most accessible places to buy food.

Here I must distinguish between types of urban neighborhoods. There are urban neighborhoods like mine, a mile east of downtown Seattle, which has a Natural Foods Co-op, Trader Joes, a weekly farmers' market, and conventional grocery stores offering plenty of local, organic produce, all within walking distance. Even with this abundance of available healthy food, the idea of urban farming is and has been popular in these types of neighborhoods, where there is bound to be a P-Patch every few miles and condo balconies overflow with container gardens. This surge is urban farming is brought on more by the desire to be healthier and more environmentally friendly than the actual lack of access to healthy food. Other urban neighborhoods, such as those in LA and Detroit (which, according to Richard Florida, author of The Great Reset, does not currently have any national grocery chains operating within the city limits) simply lack the access to fresh foods, and urban farming is one of the avenues that are being explored to correct this imbalance.

The concept is coming to my neighborhood. My neighbor, an urban planner and all-things-urban enthusiast, contacted a local business whose green space was not being utilized. They agreed to loan the land for a neighborhood garden. The first work weekend to clear space was this Saturday. I am excited to see how the project progresses. (Disclaimer: I pity any plant that has tried to grow in my containers. I am hoping I have more luck in raised beds).

13th and Marion Community Garden Project

Why do you need a garden, one may ask, in a neighborhood with an already disproportionate access to fresh food? Besides the obvious reasons (getting your hands dirty and gardening is fun, we don't have a yard, and, in Guy Clark's immortal words, there's nothing like a home grown tomato) I believe there can be farther reaching benefits, like general awareness, an exchange of ideas, failures, and successes to provide a model for other urban farms, beautifying urban space, community cohesion, and promoting more dense living by showing how to live without a yard of ones own.

More information about our neighborhood project:

Email Wes Kirkman at to claim a spot or for more information.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for writing about the community garden Anne! This will be an exciting project indeed: from my first community organizing to first rototiller experience.

    While on the topic, another benefit to having some gardening space, especially one that is shared with a group of others, is being able to experiment with raising plants, reteaching ourselves (humans, that is) how to work with the land and nature, and learning things from your neighboring gardener. I'm reading Growing veggies west of the Cascades, and he makes an excellent point that kind of conflicts with the urban nerd in me: not too long ago, kids grew up with a hoe in their hand, knowing everything about living off the land; then came the generation that grew up with a TV remote in their hand, knowing all the TV schedules; then the computer mouse and knowing the computer. I don't know about you but I feel like my mysterious brown thumb comes from it being too busy changing channels and pressing the punch-kick buttons. So this project is exciting for me because it gives me chance to make up for that, maybe take a break from playing video games for awhile, pick up some tricks from other gardeners, and I don't have to leave my urban village.

    Finally, since you are discussing the facets of urban ag, here is a striking (to me at least) observation from last weekend: everyone that helped out were all late-20- / early-30-somethings. I was curious who would show up to the work party, all the while picturing an older crowd. The volunteers said the same thing, that they pictured me to be a 40- or 50-something. I'm not sure if that means anything, other than it bodes well for the longevity of the urban ag concept; as long as us 20- and 30-somethings can keep our enthusiasm and not get distracted by the video games.