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Blog

Evolving stories About Growing Food in a Big City

Filtering by Tag: food movement

One Earth Film Fest serves up food films

Cassandra West

960-Indian food-Holi

Food is on the menu at this weekend’s One Earth Film Festival. Three films, “Ingredients," “Food Patriots” and “Soul Food Junkies,” will take up issues related to the dark side of the food industry, the growing food justice movement and how activists, farmers and plenty of fed-up people are fighting back against a broken and unhealthy food system.

Last we heard, plenty of tickets are still available to the festival, which starts Friday, March 1 and continues through Sunday, March 3 in locations around Oak Park, River Forest and Forest Park. The second-year festival will extend beyond its suburban roots this year with the screening of “Soul Food Junkies,” taking place March 3 at Saint Martin’s Episcopal Church, 5700 W. Midway Park, in Chicago’s Austin neighborhood

Locally grown, locally produced foods taking hold

Cassandra West

Take a look around and perhaps you’ve noticed a trend we’ve been following recently: the growth of locally produced specialty foods and drinks. Increasingly, local foods entrepreneurs are moving beyond selling produce fresh from the garden or farm. Many are now turning locally grown produce into condiments, teas, seasonings, herbal tinctures, bath and body care lotions and salts.

The boutique food products haven’t exactly knocked the Lipton and Heinz brands off supermarket shelves yet, but they’re catching on. You’re still more likely to find them, though, at farmers’ markets and small natural foods stores like Real Naked Foods in Wicker Park, which opened this past spring. And, Oak Park-based Family Farmed is giving a boost by constantly promoting the production and distribution of locally grown and produced food.

We've taking to checking out local foods, purchasing ones that appeal to our tastes — and sometimes just pure curiosity. This summer we picked up a jar of a wonderfully delicious and tangy pickled okra at the Oak Park Farmers Market. And, yes, we liked it a lot.

But it was the Family Farmed Expo that truly opened our eyes to what’s happening in this growing segment of food production. While strolling through FF’s vendor fair at this past spring, Seeding Chicago chatted with many of the vendors who were selling products. (Imagine actually talking with a food producer. You’d be lucky if someone from Heinz even took a call your call.)

We didn’t leave the Expo empty handed. We took home some incredible kombucha (fermented tea) made by Nessalla in Madison, Wis.; a chunky and bold cranberry catsup from The Scrumptious Pantry; a tongue-tingling poblano sauce by Co-Op Sauce, a nonprofit that supports a youth art center and community arts initiatives in Chicago’s Humboldt Park Neighborhood; a package of no-cholesterol spinach tortilla wraps from La Mexicana Tortilleria, Inc., in Chicago, and some out-of-this-world specialty blended teas by SenTEAmental Moods Teas, located here in Chicago.

Lori, the owner of SenTEAmental makes some of the most creative blends anywhere. She's even blended smooth, decadent tea made with sweet potatoes, vanilla, almonds, sunflower, jasmine and calendula petals called Southern Comfort.

You don’t have to take our word for it. Check out the video above and hear directly from this new breed of food producers. And, if you have a favorite local food you’d like to tell us about, Email us here.

 

Cook County seeks public input on proposed food policy council

Cassandra West

The Cook County Department of Public Health is proposing the creation of a food policy council for Cook County. The food policy council would be an official committee that explores cross-agency and cross-jurisdictional food issues and makes recommendations to the Cook County Board of Commissioners. Do you live or work in Cook County, Illinois? If so, you are invited to complete a survey on how government laws, rules, ordinances, regulations and programs affect the way we eat, grow, transport, store, process, distribute, sell, or handle food or food waste.

The survey results will be used to create recommendations on what issues a proposed Cook County food policy council will focus its efforts. The Cook County food policy council is anticipated to be an official committee that explores cross-agency and cross-jurisdictional food issues and makes recommendations to the Cook County Board of Commissioners. Click here to access the survey.

The survey will be open until September 29, 2011.

To answer the survey in Spanish, call 708-633-8314 or e-mail jbloyd@ccdph.net. Para contester esta encuesta en espanol, favor de llamar a 708-633-8314; o escriba a jbloyd@ccdph.net.

Please share this opportunity to provide YOUR input on the issues of importance related to food in Cook County by tweeting this post or putting as your Facebook status. Click the Tweet/Facbook buttons above right.

Will Allen on the urban farm revolution

Cassandra West

CHICAGO — Even if you know only a little about urban agriculture, you’ve probably heard of Will Allen, the nation’s foremost local food movement leader and advocate. Allen, who founded the Milwaukee-based urban farm and education center Growing Power Inc., was in Chicago at Fourth Presbyterian Church Thursday (June 24) evening to talk about his good food movement, which is “really about social justice,” he says.


Allen's presentation, titled “The Urban Farm Revolution: Growing Power and the Importance of Sustainable Local Food Production,” was an overview of Growing Power’s work since 1995 as a not-for-profit training center that focuses on urban agriculture methods and building community food security systems. He also talked about his organization’s work in Chicago, specifically a community outreach project and collaboration with Fourth Church called Chicago Lights Urban Farm.

Growing Power helped establish the urban farm (444 W. Chicago Ave.), which this year expanded to become an urban farm with year-round food production. The farm provides access to affordable organic produce and nutrition education and promotes economic development.

“All should have access to safe, affordable, nutritious food at all times,” Allen said before presenting a slideshow on Growing Power’s numerous projects in Milwaukee and around the world. He said his mission and vision are to bring people together, and “one of the best ways to bring people together is around food…that’s when wonderful things happen.”

Allen is an innovator in composting, vermicomposting (using worms to refine and fertilize compost) and aquaponics (growing fish and food plants in a closed system). Perhaps his strongest message Thursday was the importance of rethinking how and where food is grown. Straight-faced and serious, he declared that food can grow on asphalt. Several of his slides showed images of vegetable-laden soil mounds that Growing Power has installed on top of hard-surface urban lots.

Of the food we consume, 99 percent of it is “shipped in,” Allen said. “If we had local food production, we’d create a lot of jobs.” That’s really the social justice component of what Allen calls the good food movement.

Donnell Williams

Community organizer Donnell Williams, who came out to meet and hear Allen, told Seeding Chicago he wants to change how residents in his Roseland neighborhood access healthy food. He and others are starting a farmers market along with a local church. But his chief concern is to end food deserts and seek ways to bring in food-related jobs that can help "sustain the community," he said.

Philadelphia urban farm grows roots in old industrial neighborhood

Cassandra West

PHILADELPHIA — Farming in the city isn’t always a viable business model, those who attempt it will admit. Sometimes, though, an urban farmer gets it right—growing not only good, fresh food but building strong community ties along the way. That’s what Greensgrow Farm has done since opening a dozen years ago in one of this city's oldest industrial neighborhoods.

Greensgrow started as a wholesale supplier of hydroponically grown salad greens to restaurants and as it has evolved “we’ve gone with the flow,” says Mary Steton Corboy, chief farm hand and co-founder. The original idea, she adds, grew from asking, “How can you grow on land deemed unusable and have a market for what it is you [are] selling?”

Greensgrow took root on an EPA brownfield site, where a former galvanized steel plant once stood, proving that abandoned industrial land can be reclaimed and turned into a productive, thriving enterprise. Today the verdant three-acre urban farm includes a retail nursery, farmers’ market and a community supported agriculture (CSA) program. Vegetables are grown in a 6,000-square-feet heated greenhouse and in raised beds with “French drains” and irrigation lines, and recently a green roof was added to the farm’s compost toilet.

“What we’re trying to do is test the viability of urban agriculture and the concept,” Corboy told members of a tour group in town for the Sustainable Agriculture & Food Systems Funders Forum, June 15-18. Part of the tour included lunch made from food produced at the farm — zucchini, squash, arugula, mixed greens, kale and strawberries.

Bringing agriculture to an old industrial area populated with a high dropout rate and unemployment hasn’t been a walk in the park. When Greensgrow first arrived in the neighbor locals call Fishtown, it had “no interaction with people in the community,” Corboy said. “Then we started selling flowers and that opened the door to the community,” with people stopping by to ask questions about Greensgrow’s food.

As the community connection strengthened, Greensgrow reached out more to its neighbors, educating them about food and giving them a voice in food production issues— what gets grown, whether or not pesticides, antibiotics or hormones are used in production.

More recently, the farm started a low-income CSA, Corboy said. Participants, who must be eligible for food stamps, can use their stamps to pay for their CSA share. “The point with this low-income CSA is that we recognize completely who our market is, and we want to have deeper roots in our community. We want to get the people around us who really need the access to know that they have the access.”

A cooking class and trips to farmers’ markets will be offered along with a CSA share, said Corboy, who is also a chef. “Our goal is that every single thing that is cooked in the cooking class has to be something that can be purchased in our Zip Code.”

Learn more about Greensgrow.

Jeremy Nowak urges food funders to learn from practice

Cassandra West

By Susan Richardson PHILADELPHIA -- Funders and philanthropies should be willing to learn from practice in creating models for access to healthy food, said Jeremy Nowak, president and CEO of The Reinvestment Fund (TRF), speaking on the second day of the Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems Funders conference in Philadelphia.

"Look at creating a live laboratory for financing and development of the food movement," said Nowak (left), whose nonprofit organization played a key role in developing Pennsylvania's Healthy Food Financing Initiative. The initiative has increased the number of grocers, farmers markets and other outlets for healthy food in underserved, low-income communities in Philadelphia and is a model for national legislation supported by the White House.

Funders must be willing to support practices and policies that sometimes lead to "dead ends," he said, adding that  "development is iterative." The alternative is to wait for a comprehensive approach that can result in inaction, he said.

Nowak's comments at Wednesday's session of the food funders conference focused on lessons from TRF's involvement in financing healthy food. The organization's work in the food movement began about six years ago, at the request of a leading state official who inquired about the  dearth of grocers in Philadelphia's inner-city communities.   (Nowak credited the Food Trust with generating interest in the issue.)  Grocers told Nowak that  the cost of doing business in the communities was steeper than in suburban areas because of  training, infrastructure and insurance.

Two critical lessons emerged from the experience: listening is critical to understanding the issues grocers face and demand has to be created for more healthy food choices. In the absence of healthy choices, Nowak said, people get used to what they are offered.

"Don't build down to the market; build up to the market," Nowak said.  The approach, he added, will help change consumer expectations in communities where both the quality of the food and the quality of service are often lacking.

TRF has helped create access to healthy food for more than 1 million people, including 80 markets, 25 of which are in Philadelphia.

The city is like many urban areas across the country. It suffers from a rise in vacant lots and abandoned properties and a declining population.  Philadelphia's food deserts reflect the demographic transformation of the city and its corresponding economic challenges.

Nowak said the key question is: "How do you catalyze economic growth in ways that advantage low-income people and places and get them into the mainstream economy?"

TRF's mission is to work in the "sweet spot between growth and equity," he said. The organization, which manages $700 million, views itself as a capital and information intermediary that can work in the "gray area between civics and markets," he said.

Learn more about the SAFSF conference.

Food funders gather in Philadelphia to discuss urban agriculture

Cassandra West

Awbury Arboretum in Germantown By Susan Richardson

PHILADELPHIA -- The 8th Annual Forum of the Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems Funders began with a reminder of how far the food movement has come since the group first met in 2003.  Thirty people attended SAFSF's inaugural conference in San Francisco; 155 people are attending  this year's conference in Philadelphia, said Executive Director Virginia Clarke on Tuesday, the first day of the event.

The rising interest mirrors the growing national conversation about urban agriculture, Clarke said. Citing a recent article by food guru Michael Pollan comparing the food movement to a "big lumpy tent," she said the movement's diverse participants, including lawyers, urban planners and designers, and philanthropists, can learn from each other despite differences.

The food movement has taken off, said Greg Horner, a program officer at the Cedar Tree Foundation in Boston and moderator of the opening plenary. He noted several examples, from the federal government's support for an office of urban agriculture within the U. S. Department of Agriculture to increased support for food initiatives by funders.

The panelists for the opening plenary, "Shall We Dance? How New Partners Are Helping to Build a Stronger Food System for All," reflected the range of interests coalescing around the food movement, including social equity, urban design and planning, and health and environmental protection.

Tour guide Joan Reilly, senior director Pennsylvania Horticultural Society

Panelists were Kimberley Hodgson, manager of the Planning and Community Health Research Center at the American Planning Association; Maria Salgado, programs director of Nuestras Raices in Holyoke, Mass.; and Jason McLennan, an architect and CEO of Cascadia Region Green Building Council.

Emphasizing that urban agriculture is about more than food, Hodgson presented an overview of  initiatives across the country, from farms to community gardens to food banks.  Urban agriculture can help build communities, provide skills training and a recent survey states that it can increase property values in the surrounding neighborhood.  To succeed, urban communities have to overcome some risks, including soil and water contamination, she said.  Raised beds may make it possible to grow healthy food in these communities, but contaminants such as lead, zinc, and chromium can still negatively effect children who play in gardens.

Cities such as Cleveland are increasingly seeing the benefit of urban agriculture for economic development.  In conjunction with Cuyahoga County, the city is tapping into agriculture to create new jobs and businesses, Hodgson said.  The city has a goal to create one community garden per one-quarter square mile.  Cleveland changed its zoning ordinance to create an urban agriculture category, and allows residents to keep small animals such as pigs and chickens.

Salgado discussed how urban agriculture can help build social equity, using examples from Nuestras Raices' work in Holyoke.  The city has the highest percentage of Puerto Ricans of any city outside of the island and also ranks among the poorest cities in the country.  Asthma and obesity are staggering.  "You can't look at urban blight in silos," she said, adding that a "systemic" approach is necessary.

Formed a year ago, Nuestras Raices seeks to address these issues through developing jobs and businesses geared toward urban agriculture and energy conservation.  The organization has developed 10 community gardens with 100 families. It has a green jobs training program for youth, some of whom are working to complete their GEDs. And it plans to open a store that specializes in pork (or a Lechonera), which is popular in the community.

Nuestras Raices (Our Roots, in English) also seeks to grow a heritage: Puerto Rico's agricultural tradition.  Many of the younger generation have rejected it, Salgado said, viewing farming as a "stigma" and moving backwards, rather than a way to make a living.

McLennan, a leading international green building architect, explored how sustainable development can reinforce urban agriculture. He called for re-establishing the relationship between cities and food production, which was lost with the evolution of the modern city.  Citing films such as "Mad Max" and "Blade Runner," and cartoons such as "The Jetsons,"  McLennan said Americans have a vision of the future where they live in very dense settings removed from natural space and get their food by pushing a button.

McClennan said The Living City Design Competition, sponsored by the International Living Building Institute, supports efforts to create more sustainable cities.

With 40,000 vacant lots and a population that has dropped significantly in the last decade, Philadelphia is an example of how a city can tap into urban agriculture to create new economic opportunities.  Following the opening plenary, conference participants spent the afternoon touring urban agriculture projects in the area.

The conference continues through Friday.  For resources and to learn more about the panelists, visit the SAFSF website.