Feed Your Body, Feed Your Soul: Creating Food Security through Urban Farming
Poverty can be defined a few different ways that often relate to the country or environment in question. For example, poverty in Africa is much different than poverty in the United States. Commonly in the U.S., this pertains to a lack of quality education, healthcare, and access to fresh, nutritious foods as a result of economic hardship from inner city living. Without access to food and proper nutrition, humans cannot flourish and are more burdened with health issues, thus increasing the need for government spending to care of the impoverished. Solutions do exist. Reducing hunger with better food quality and health is one of the most effective and important ways to relieve poverty. Localized production of fresh, nutritious foods increases physical health, builds communities, and empowers people to build small economies. Community gardening or micro-farming offers incredible benefits to people of all ages, creating access to better food and improving the quality of life.
Many Americans have access to fresh local foods, but other communities don’t even have grocery stores. Due largely to segregation from poorly executed civil rights movement strategies, inner city areas have become gang war zones, riddled with diseases like diabetes and obesity. Although ethnicities within these areas have become more diverse, they are still largely minority areas. The inner city areas became predominantly ethnic as white people fled to new suburbs and racism was written into building codes and neighborhood covenants. These segregated areas were rich with industrial jobs and thriving communities at first, but due to a number of cultural pressures, they morphed into poorly funded ghettos and food deserts. The abundance of convenience stores, liquor stores, and pawn shops offer little fresh options for families suffering from persistently trying times.
Past movements have worked to reduce food-related poverty issues and relieve other effects of poverty. A great example, which also focused on segregation issues of inner cities, was called “Free Breakfast for Children.” It was initiated by the Black Panther Party in Oakland, California. As Heynen notes, “At the Breakfast Program’s peak in late 1969 and early 1970, the BPP and other volunteers fed thousands of children daily before they went to school across the country.” How can we follow and improve on the ideals of these past successes? We have the power to start movements like this today, and many people are as we see a growing interest in restructuring our American food chain and focusing on localism.
Community gardening plots, farmers markets and gardeners education programs are forming at an incredible rate. People are awakening to the fact that our food system is detrimental to our environment: it is destroying soil, creating an excessive carbon footprint, harming indigenous peoples and their land with our connoisseurial desire for exotic foods like acai berries, and becoming a massive monopoly. Farmers are less likely to grow a variety of crops because of the government’s hand in the business and the apparent need for specific crops such as, wheat, corn, soy, cotton and canola.
The beauty and benefits of the micro-farming and urban gardening movements are undeniable and may mark the beginning of the next great agricultural revolution. There aren’t many things more pleasing than planting seeds with your children, watching them grow as you spend minimal money and energy, and harvesting food that could not be fresher. More people are creating the ability to share with friends and family, trade for other products from neighbors, or go to local markets and sell produce. Food activists are working to dramatically change our system, gathering supporters as people become either needier or more aware. As an FAO report states, “Growth in small-farm production reduces the number of people in poverty and reduces its severity: the consumption of the poorest may be increased.” Growing is a very natural resource for sustaining families, but our reliance on supermarkets has stripped us of our roots. With small farming movements, education, and participation, we can slowly affect our flawed food system while keeping money in our communities.
Some very notable initiatives are working in the United States to usher in the small farming movement. Grassroots organizations are teaming with visionaries and policy makers, cultivating a movement that is changing the way Americans look at food. Communities that work toward a greener future will experience financial growth and more overall control of their own environments, thus empowering those who are struggling to rise above their situation and create a beautiful future with less hunger. Government funding and grants are available for micro-farmers and for people in poverty. This means a chance at a healthful, educational, and experiential-based opportunity.
Communities can choose to take control of their situations in order to reformulate their options and create success from the dirt in their yard or the dirt on the street corner, abandoned lot, or churchyard. Urban agriculture is happening, and we can help by becoming involved. Statistically, with population growth rates, we need to produce more food now than ever before in history. If we can take responsibility for producing good quality food in our own yards, we can change our food system, economy, and health. Everyone deserves access to high quality foods that don’t travel thousands of miles to our grocery store. We should pick them from the soil on which we stand.