With nearly 7.2 billion customers being served an average of 3 meals a day, Mother Earth is by far the most successful (and crowded) cafeteria in the observable universe. But with an expected increase of one billion mouths to feed over the next ten years, many wonder if Mother Nature’s bountiful cornucopia will be able to keep up with booming business. According to the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization, the solution lies in Urban Agriculture. The U.N. believes that “Urban agriculture needs to be recognized as an important and increasingly central phenomenon of urbanization.” By incorporating practices that keep our food close to our people, we can certainly find ways to keep the global population fed for decades to come.
Up until the age of industrialization, agriculture and cities were closely intertwined. A vast majority of the foods you ate were harvested within twenty miles of your home. Since then, that number has dramatically changed, with the average American meal traveling 1500 miles to get from farm to plate. Often times, that mile number is much higher. Let’s examine a typical spaghetti dinner, for example. The noodles themselves were once wheat growing on the wide plains of Nebraska. When that wheat was harvested, the grain was sent to Minnesota, where it was processed and ground into flour, after which it was sent to Michigan to be made into noodles. Finally those noodles were packaged and sent to your local supermarket. Oh, and that rosy marinara sauce? Those tomatoes just got off a flight from the Netherlands. Asparagus? Just pulled in from Peru. This agricultural juggling act is massive, expensive, and potentially detrimental to our environment. According to CUESA (Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture), it is estimated that we put 10 kcal of fossil fuel energy into our food system for every 1 kcal of energy we get as food. Are you starting to get the picture? Our modern day food system is getting a little bit out of control, but by turning to locally grown, organic produce and food products, we can help reverse some of these ill effects.
Perhaps the best way to bring food back into our own hands is through community gardening. Community gardens provide an opportunity for local residents to grow their own sustainable produce near their home; even if they don’t own any land. Many community gardens in urban centers are located in low-income areas and actually increase property values of nearby homes, lower crime rates, and provide nutrient-rich produce (often free of charge) to families and individuals who may not have received them otherwise. Some city governments, such as those of Portland, Oregon and Lawrence, Massachusetts, have even enacted laws and policies that create community gardens and green spaces on vacant lots that are owned by the city. Community gardening is the essence of urban agriculture and perhaps the key to solving our “jet-setting” food fiasco. We at Greening Forward support all community gardens, and want you to do the same.
Join us on Saturday October 4, as we challenge all young people everywhere to volunteer in their local community gardens. Find some friends, pack a lunch, and spend a day digging in that dirt. Perhaps contact a local community garden coordinator beforehand and ask if they need any specific tasks done. Odds are, they’d be thrilled to have you and will appreciate your hard work. The world needs more gardeners and green-minded individuals. By accepting this challenge, you will not only be benefiting your own community, but you will be showing the world that you care.