Urban Farms & Sustainability

I was scrolling through Facebook while waiting for class to start the other day, when I came across this article from NPR, which posted by a local radio station in my hometown. The article discussed plans to build the biggest urban organic food orchard in the U.S. in Milwaukee County, WI.

Prior to reading the full article, I was intrigued by the project. Upon reading, I learned that the orchard is part of a new initiative in Milwaukee, WI called SEED. The SEED initiative, or the Sowing, Empowering, and Eliminating Food Deserts Initiative, is designed to educate city residents about healthier food options, as well as provide easy access to healthy produce for those who many not be fortunate enough to have access otherwise. Furthermore, low income families and students of Milwaukee County schools will have first access to the 3,000 fruit trees, 16,250 strawberry plants and 4,000 asparagus plants grown on the orchard. Once the produce is ready for consumption, it will be distributed by the city’s Hunger Task Force. As the Milwaukee County Supervisor states in the NPR article:

“Milwaukee County schools and low-income residents will be the first to have access to the organic produce. The produce will go to those in need..Fruit that we pick from these trees will be spread throughout the county for those that are less fortunate…It will also go to those that don’t have the ability to have a garden of their own or have the yards to do it.”

orchard.JPG

source: npr/Milwaukee County Board

I believe that initiatives and projects such as SEED are extremely important and should be prioritized when when drafting city and/or education budgets. Projects like SEED expose people both young and old to other foods they may not typically eat- or in some cases- even know exist. Urban areas are naturally more populous than suburban or rural areas, and therefore typically have higher numbers of people with low incomes. Lots of times these people do not have easy access to healthy, natural food options such as apples, strawberries, and asparagus. Programs like SEED make access to these foods easier, which is an important first step in moving away from our current, inefficient food system the prioritized quantity over efficiency, and is oriented around meat and dairy. Exposing people to different, more sustainable foods, while educating them on the health and environmental benefits of a produce rich diet, is extremely important both for their own health, and the health of the environment. For these reasons, I feel that more initiatives likes the SEED initiative should be established in cities around the U.S.; the numerous benefits of urban orchards in low-income areas more than justifies the costs. The SEED initiative came with a $100,000 dollar price tag, and as another Milwaukee County Supervisor by the name of Marina Dimitrijevic states:

“The benefits of the locally grown food is worth the $100,000 county investment.”

Most people know Wisconsin as the “dairy state,” however, over the past few decades, it seems as though the food industry in Wisconsin has become increasingly interested in general sustainability, and other forms of more sustainable agriculture like the urban orchard discussed above. I’m not sure if this is really happening, but overall, in Wisconsin we’ve been seeing less and less advertisements for the dairy industry, and more for locally grown, seasonal produce such as honeycrisp apples in the fall, and Sweet Corn in the summer. This apparent shift, in my opinion, has been more or less lead by the influential and progressive University of Wisconsin Madison, which is located in the State’s Capital.

pickingapplesfamilyw600

source: appleholler

Another impressive organization that helps students and residence access healthy produce is Students for Sustainable Agriculture.  Students for Sustainable Agriculture was established in 1979 by students and faculty at UW Madison, with the help of agricultural scientist Franklin Hiram King. Franklin Hiram King, or FH King, has been referred to as both “the father of sustainable agriculture” and “the father of soil physics,” and thus has much influence over both fields. The student organization, Students for Sustainable Agriculture, is an organization based out of the Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems (CIAS) at UW Madison. The organization’s mission is to,“Promote agricultural education and hands-on experience with intensive vegetable production.”

aerial_UW_campus_JM13_6664

source: eCALS/UW-Madison

A friend of mine at UW Madison speaks highly of this student organization, praising the the weekly events it holds. A widely popular event the Students for Sustainable Agriculture holds, is a weekly sale- similar to a farmers market- that the student members hold on the campus. At this event, UW students and members of the community can purchase a decent sized paper bag for about 10 dollars, and fill it up will whatever produce they wish. Additionally, it is important to note that the produce sold is grown by the student members and volunteers on plots of land near the campus.

Students for Sustainable Agriculture at UW Madison do far more than simply grow and sell produce, and I encourage you to check out the other projects the organization is involved with on their website. Furthermore, I find organizations such as this one pretty exceptional; I think more institutions should follow in the footsteps of UW Madison and establish organizations similar to Students for Sustainable Agriculture.

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Source: fhkingstudents

 

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10 Comments

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10 responses to “Urban Farms & Sustainability

  1. Peter Newton

    Thanks Liz! How would you go about proposing that CU do something similar? Who would you need to convince, and how would such a program be funded?

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    • lizbrucker

      I think I’d go about proposing something like FH King Students for Sustainable Agriculture here at CU the same way students and faculty did at UW Madison as they were very successful, and the organization has been growing ever since.
      I’d likely get some professors involved, as well as the Environmental Center, local farmers, and the boulder county farmers market board. I would propose building a polyculture garden and/or greenhouse somewhere on campus- potentially on/around east campus- for students interested in agriculture and sustainability to tend to. The students could then sell the produce they grow to other students as well as Boulder residents. The leftover unsold, unwanted produce could then be donated to nonprofits such as Boulder Food Rescue to be distributed to food insecure people around the community.
      As far as people we’d need to convince, those people would be the local farmers, CU faculty with environmental and/or agricultural backgrounds/fields of study, and the boards of both the Environmental Center, and the Boulder County Farmers Market. Faculty could aid in the technical aspects of setting up a sustainable garden/orchard and also help educate students who could then go educate other students about sustainable farming practices, why sustainability is important, as well as how to set up gardens at home. The Environmental Center would act as an umbrella organization, that this student run sustainable agriculture organization could be a branch of.
      Eventually, if/when this new organization becomes successful and secure, we could get the Boulder County farmers market involved. Maybe students could sell their foods at the farmer’s market; maybe the farmers market board could act as a supporter of this new student run organization, and further help us spread awareness of the organization and its mission, to provide easy access to fresh produce, and educate the public on sustainable farming practices and how to setup and maintain sustainable home gardens.
      Like the environmental center, the organization could be funded by student fees. I would however, have to do further research on how this would affect student fees, and how this would affect other the organizations funded by student fees. I’d also make the suggestion that the issue of funding this new “Students for Sustainable Agriculture” organization with student fees, be taken to a vote open to all students, as well as anyone else who’d be affected by this issue.
      Additionally, to keep costs low, the money from the produce sold could go to the maintenance of the garden/orchard (at least at first).
      Ideally, once this organization become more popular, and thus larger and more successful, we could begin expanding and doing more projects like the FH King Student organization at Madison was able to do.

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  2. sszabian

    Great post! Programs like SEED are a great way to tackle the food insecurity problem in this country, while working toward a healthier population. Did you find any information on similar programs in other states? Do you know if there are plans to expand SEED to other cities in Wisconsin?

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    • lizbrucker

      I have heard of some similar programs throughout the U.S., specifically in food insecure areas such as Harlem, South Bronx, and Kansas City. I did some research after reading about SEED, and there is a program in Harlem called Grow, that is very similar to the SEED initiative. According to their website, “Harlem Grown is an independent, non-profit organization whose mission is to inspire youth to lead healthy and ambitious lives through mentorship and hands-on education in urban farming, sustainability, and nutrition.”
      Also, I did not find information on plans to expand SEED to other cities in Wisconsin, but I did reach out to them via their Facebook page a day or two ago asking about this, but have not heard back yet.

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  3. madisonsmith71

    Really interesting post! Would there be changes made to the program as it expands?

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    • lizbrucker

      Not to my knowledge; the program is still extremely new- the first crops were just planted this past fall. I would assume that if they were to expand, they may just simply make changes that would allow them to better reach more people in need. They could potentially increase the variety of produce in the orchard as well.

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  4. victoriallen

    Very interesting topic! Do you see this program being implemented in the public school system eventually?

    Like

    • lizbrucker

      I have heard of some similar programs throughout the U.S., specifically in food insecure areas such as Harlem, South Bronx, and Kansas City. I did some research after reading about SEED, and there is a program in Harlem called Grow, that is very similar to the SEED initiative. According to their website, “Harlem Grown is an independent, non-profit organization whose mission is to inspire youth to lead healthy and ambitious lives through mentorship and hands-on education in urban farming, sustainability, and nutrition.”
      Also, I did not find information on plans to expand SEED to other cities in Wisconsin, but I did reach out to them via their Facebook page a day or two ago asking about this, but have not heard back yet.

      Like

    • lizbrucker

      Based on what I have heard about the Milwaukee public school system, they are trying to become more sustainable while simultaneously educating young people about healthy natural foods. Many schools in Milwaukee, prior to SEED, had small gardens that the students could help tend to. When the crops in these student run gardens were done, they were picked and given to the cafeteria so that the kids could enjoy the foods they grew. I would assume now that SEED has be implemented in Milwaukee county, the schools will continue to expand their garden programs, or simply use the SEED orchards as produce sources rather than as buying it elsewhere. I wouldn’t be surprised if the educational aspect of the initiative was further expanded into the classrooms as well, but I have not found anything on expansion plans.

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  5. My sister-in-law is a horticulturist with the City of Philadelphia and one of her big summertime programs involves recruiting and training garden tenders. Urban gardens are source of pride and function to build community in places where those things are in short supply. They get people outside, talking to each other and creating important relationships. I think that inside of every person, there is the capacity and desire to connect with nature which can happen by working in the dirt. Even in cities with budgetary problems, any money spent on project like this is well-spent.

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