Posts Tagged ‘Urban Food Systems’

A Successful Community Brainstorm

Two-thousand eleven is turning out to be a good year so far! Justin and I are looking forward to the Southern SAWG (Sustainable Working Ag Group) conference in Chattanooga, TN that starts on Thursday of this week. What is even more exciting is the energy and momentum that many of us feel after the Urban Food Visioning Session that took place this last Saturday. First, a big thanks to Holy Trinity Episcopal Church for allowing us to use their space for free! There were about 30 people in attendance and this is THEIR work!

As the name suggests, in the gathering our main activity was brainstorming—always a fun thing to do, I think! You can download the results of our brainstorming to read exactly what we came up with. We organized the ideas into 10 categories and gave them “juicy” titles to help us connect more viscerally to these ideas. Broadly speaking our categories  spanned from creating online resources and ways to connect folks who want to grow food with places to do that; community education and workshops on all sorts of urban food topics but definitely on how to grow food; finding ways to heal the soil and community in the proposed urban farm location (see post); eating food together; making food more physically accessible; and getting better food into our public schools. The next steps include meeting in committees (or as we prefer to call them, nests) to develop plans to get some things done!

If you wanted to participate but were not able to make it, or just didn’t hear about it in time, we still want your participation! Download the brainstorm results and let me know what your interest is. Then I’ll make sure that you are connected with your “nest” of interest to get involved.

My goal is to create a listServ to help facilitate discussions and get people DOing! (If any of you have ever set up a listServ, I’d greatly appreciate your assistance! Email me at As I emphasized in the meeting, Urban Harvest is happy to facilitate, lead, organize, partner, or just help make connections. We realize this is about Greensboro, not about Urban Harvest, and the more people we have empowered and excited about doing something, the more success we can have as an entire community! Thanks to everyone who attended, and for everyone else, we hope to see you next time!

Urban Food Visioning for 2011

What a fantastic and exciting year 2010 has been! I could list all the cool things we’ve done this year, but I’ll save that for another post. But needless to say, we’ve got some great momentum on local food action in Greensboro, and we know you’re itching to get involved with a local grassroots organization to keep that momentum going! I’ve personally been inspired and energized by the CFSA (Carolina Farm Stewardship Association) Sustainable Agriculture Conference that took place last weekend in Winston-Salem. I was again reminded of my dedication to urban food systems and the possibilities that lay before us. (We are particularly fond of Toby Hemenway and the amazing things going on in Portland, OR like

This is why we want to invite you to our first Urban Food Visioning Session. So many of you have expressed interest in getting involved with Urban Harvest, and as you know we are currently an all-volunteer organization. We’ve been successful at small steps and small victories with a small number of people, but we have power in numbers. So we’d like you to join us around the “kitchen table” to tackle something a little larger. Come with your project ideas, and an open mind to others’ project ideas, and we’ll create an action plan to forge a greener, healthier Greensboro! Since this will be a “kitchen table” session, plan to eat with us!

What: Urban Food Visioning
Date: Saturday, January 15th, 2011
Time: 3-5 pm with dinner to follow
Place: TBD (depends on how many people will attend)

Please RSVP by Jan 8th to

Healing Soils

With our recent announcement that the site Urban Harvest was considering for an urban farm is contaminated, we’ve had an outpouring of ideas from the community and other national organizations. The EPA was even quick to come to the call. But things have continued to move organically, and other solutions, ideas and projects have presented themselves. (More on that later.)

As an organization with both sustainable agriculture and urban agriculture at our core, we often find these 2 techniques [sustainable and urban] to sometimes be out of sync with one another. The primary concern I have with the majority of urban ag out there, is the quality of the soil. (ie. Can it be sustainable if we often need to purchase compost/manure? If we don’t bring in new healthy soil, are we able to produce food in a healthy and sustainable way?) Growing food is great, and necessary for sustainability, but if you’re growing in contaminated soil, you create other problems, and that is not a sustainable solution. Healthy soil is most essential ingredient to the work we do, and to our civilization as a whole. If cities are to become more sustainable, healing the soil has to be a priority. And if urban agriculture is to be truly sustainable, it too has to be based on healthy soils. So this new pollution cleanup technique should be integrated to any urban ag system as well as all municipal water treatments. This is will lead to more sustainable and healthy urban agriculture.

We’re baaaacckk…

One of the challenges of any not-for-profit organization, particularly one that is growing, is finding the time, resources and people to perform the ever-growing list of tasks that need to be done to maintain the momentum of the overall effort. One of those tasks is keeping all of the stakeholders informed. We are blessed in this information age with a convenient way of doing this – the Internet and this wonderful thing called a blog. But the copy doesn’t write itself and most of the many volunteers already involved with Urban Harvest (or any other such worthwhile organization) have things like “day jobs”, families, and “the rest of their lives” to deal with meaning the blog may sometimes slide down the priority list. Ergo, another volunteer steps in – locavore11… Continue reading

A Mall of Food

Check out this interesting idea for renovating a dwindling shopping mall into a space for urban food production. People in Cleveland are tossing out the quintessential Abercrombie’s and Bath and Body Works’ for the possibility of an indoor urban farm.

Urban Farms, the new solution

Urban planners have recently released statistics on the large-scale decrease in American farmland:

Not surprisingly, as a growing number of Americans are living in and around city centers agricultural focus has shifted to populated urban areas . Residents in cities have made things clear : they have several innate needs … water, housing, parking, and food. We are Americans who are grouchy if we have to wait in lines, sweaty if our ac doesn’t work, and ticked off if our stomachs are empty.

In order to cater to these demands, urban planners have shifted focus to a diversify development in order to create diverse and rich micro-environment within industrial areas.  Nowadays, agriculture and businesses can be seen through a dual-focus lens rather than separate entities.

skyline of downtown Greensboro

Food production within a city locale is not only a viable option but perhaps a lasting solution as city’s increasingly fall to the category of  “food desert”.

The loss of American farmland is not synonymous with an end to American food production. It is simply a transition linked to our progression as a country. Just as we trade in Suvs for cars with better gas-mileage, we shift food production to better serve its target market or community (in this case, cities).

Food meets City: the Edible Schoolyard in downtown Greensboro.

Food meets City: the Edible Schoolyard in downtown Greensboro.

With that said, one may find that as the amount of rural farmland fades,  cities will be faced with the responsibility of providing food for the urban dwellers within it! How exciting!

To find out more about Urban Harvest and urban farming initiatives in North Carolina feel free to contact

A Letter to Aycock

Urban Harvest?

Most of you in Aycock are probably familiar with the name Urban Harvest, or at least know something about the community garden that was installed at Dunleith back in June of 2009. But I wouldn’t be surprised if you said, “so what’s going on with that?” or “who are they again?”

Though you may have seen many other faces at the ground-breaking event in June, Urban Harvest is composed of Dawn and Justin Leonard and Lou Gamble. We began as an LLC in the fall of 2007 by installing residential vegetable gardens or as we like to call it “edible landscaping.” We soon realized that what we really wanted was to educate citizens and teach people about the benefits of local food in addition to providing sustainably produced food within the city of Greensboro. Over time, we’ve changed our mission to reflect these new ideas:

Our mission is to provide and promote local urban food production, distribution and education, made accessible to all citizens, using the principles of sustainability. The vision of Urban Harvest is to create a community where all citizens have access to healthy, fresh food grown right in Greensboro.

Community Garden at Dunleith

The installation of the garden at Dunleith was an important first step to achieving some of our goals, Continue reading

Food in Public Spaces

Yesterday, Diane Rehm had a hour dedicated to discussing Urban Agriculture. Guest Derrin Nordahl, author of “Public Produce” and a city designer explained how growing food in urban, public spaces can help feed the hungry, supplement the existing agribusiness model, and promote good health for all. This is exactly in line with both our mission and our methods at Urban Harvest. In fact, when Justin presented the idea at a recent public meeting, the mediator acted as though it was one of the best ideas he’d ever heard! Maybe now the city will be a little more cooperative in our efforts to access and “develop” remnant properties.

Growing Power Final Assessment

First and foremost, everyone who works and volunteers at Growing Power has an interesting story. The vision that Will Allen has become famous for—providing nutritional, local food for all people—is a powerful one and one that attracts interesting people.

While many of my criticisms still stand, perhaps one of my biggest frustrations that began at week one, and continued throughout is the lack of collective knowledge of actually growing plants (or the power to implement proper care). The tomatoes are poorly staked, the chard is too old, and in general everything is over-watered. The idea of growing so much food in pots drives me nuts and the medium for hydroponic tomatoes shouldn’t be compost. There are insect infestations in and out of the greenhouses because of over-watering, lack of drainage, and  in general just not enough time to properly care for each different kind of plant. And don’t get me started on rotten duck eggs!

But you can take all of this as personal opinion if you’d like because it may just be a different farming philosophy than my philosophy of Permaculture. Growing Power is essentially a conventional system of growing food, without the use of pesticides. And what I think I’ve learned here, as in many organizations—for profit or non profit—is that the image and idea is more important than the implementation. The fact that we sell tomatoes grown from our own greenhouses proves that it is possible to grow anything in our greenhouses in Milwaukee, and that we can successfully sell that produce to residents of the neighborhood proves that there is a demand for this food. Growing Power doesn’t want to be an elite provider of gourmet greens to people whose habits are McDonald’s. Though they do take advantage of the sale of those gourmet greens to high-end restaurants, its access to hand-to-mouth kinds of food to residents who wouldn’t know what to do with Arugula that are the main goal.

We’ve also taken on a lot of projects within the community, from selling produce at corporate headquarter’s farmer’s markets to installing community gardens in schools and municipal spaces. Its a ton of work, more than Growing Power has the capacity to do. But its the idea that every neighborhood can and should have a community garden, and that farmer’s markets can and should be popping up everywhere. Its the relationships that are based on good, local food that really matters.

I didn’t really set goals for what I wanted to get out of this internship, but I’m sure that I could not have set out to learn what I did. I feel the biggest lessons I’ve learned were things that I don’t want to do, and from the mistakes that other people have made. I can learn how to grow, harvest, package and market produce from an urban farm by taking classes at our local community college—which I’ll do this fall at Central Carolina Community College—but I could not learn how relationships are built within those classroom walls.  And that’s truly invaluable to our own organization back home.

Also, I like goats!

Thank you Growing Power for two fantastic months!

Growing Power Internship week #3

So after 3 weeks at Growing Power my perspective is changing a little. There are still plenty of things that I would do differently in terms of growing and animals. These are the sort of things that I learned on week 1. But now I think we’re getting to understand a little bit more about the structure of a non-profit organization and how it relates to the larger community.

On a simple level, we’ve experienced more off-site work like the neighborhood, MPS (Milwaukee Public Schools) and Growing Power relationship at Maple Tree Elementary School where Growing Power rents several acres from MPS with a 25-year lease for about $1. This is a fantastic space, in a tough neighborhood, but I feel that it isn’t being maintained well. Growing Power takes on a lot of projects, but as a non-profit has limited resources (time, money and people) to properly maintain the space. There may be a bit of ownership by 1 staff member, which is what every project needs, but she is also busy doing 10 other things, including daily on-site stuff. It may not be a 40-hour/week project, but it needs more time and resources than she is capable of or allotted. And then parts of the project are neglected, and then it takes more time and people and resources to overhaul it rather than proper daily or weekly maintenance. Continue reading