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Urban Farming Vision
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Urban Farming Project Summary:


Over a year ago, the Washington Post ran a series on childhood obesity that was very revealing.  Later, there was a story about people turning to urban and community farming because of the increasing cost of food.  At first blush, it may not be apparent but these issues are related.


It is well known that many low income and minority communities, in particular, are plagued with high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes. All of the above health problems can be tackled through nutrition.


In this regard, I have been trying to promote an idea that involves nutrition, health, positive self-image, education and urban farming. Many people were already working on this type of project here and elsewhere; My vision was, well, just bigger.  To me, clearly our current policymakers were not thinking radically enough in addressing some of the problems I mentioned.


The news stories on this subject were proliferating. Especially enlightening were ones that highlighted urban farming in New York and Havana, Cuba .  The Holy Spirit was hitting me over the head with this big idea that had been brewing in my soul for years but was just beginning to take form.


The idea is this: school kids can spearhead a local and/or national campaign organized to introduce urban farming on a massive scale.


On my trip home from Italy last year the vision crystallized even more.  I had seen the humility of St. Francis of Assisi.  I had seen, first hand, the places where the Apostles Peter and Paul had sacrificed all of their being (and their lives) in order to lead mankind into thriving communities built upon the simple concept of loving one another.  Moreover, I had seen the incredibly rich culture of growing food in almost every nook and cranny of Italy.


On the plane back, I was reading a book that I had bought about growing vegetables.  To my complete surprise, the lady sitting next to me said, “Do you grow your own vegetables?”  It turns out that her father was a serious gardener; she grew some of her own vegetables, and had just completed a master gardening class.  This was a clear sign to me that that was what my next step should be.  In that class, I learned everything, and made all of the connections, I needed to move forward with a sense of confidence and urgency.


Here in Washington, DC the long term vision is to start by making large school gardens and urban farms a part of city policy and the school curriculum. Small community hobby farms are good, but we need to think bigger; especially, with the cost of food and the environmental impact of transporting it. And, it cannot be overlooked that meat production emits large amounts of greenhouse gases, pollutes our water, and eating too much of it shortens our lives.


But there are other advantages that make this concept more than compelling: children would be taught hard work, team work, delayed gratification, nutrition and nurturing. It would also promote exercise, and get them out from in front of the TV and off of the streets. There are other possible social and community benefits, as well, that I discuss below.


A surprisingly large amount of food can be grown on a vacant lot. In Washington, DC there is an incredible amount of vacant land (some targeted for development for decades, much of it federal) that can be eventually tapped into. But, in order to get this off the ground we must first think smaller.  Start by just volunteering at an existing urban gardening program.


The early stages include pilot programs based on the Edible Schoolyard project . More small gardens should be built at selected schools, ideally at middle schools. The children would be taught to plant, harvest and prepare vegetables and fruits. When the legal and political hurdles are removed to implement the larger vision those kids who developed an interest through the pilot program would "graduate" to spearheading the full high school urban farming project.


Land would be set aside in each ward of the city, with specific schools being responsible for specific locations. They would get class credit and/or be paid a small sum for the work. In the end this program could pay for itself, although the equipment, material and expertise required would necessitate an upfront investment.


The kids could keep some of the harvest to take home. Additional food could be given to soup kitchens, food banks and other needy families. This is “service learning.”  There is currently a new movement afoot where farmers donate land and volunteers do the work then donate the food to the poor.  Similarly, gleaners clear farmers’ fields of unsalable produce and give it away.  This could also be a facet of the program. Some of the vegetables and fruit could also be marketed to farmer's markets, and community supported agriculture programs (CSA’s) could be created. This is where the profit potential is.


The University of the District of Columbia already has over a hundred acres just outside of town. Most of it lies fallow. They have received funding as part of a recently enacted agricultural bill and say they are planning a college of urban agriculture--wouldn't it be nice if they began implementing some of these concepts.


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