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Posts Tagged: Urban Agriculture/Local and Regional Food Systems

Lucy Diekmann, Ph.D. joins UCCE as Urban Agriculture and Food Systems Advisor for Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties

I am delighted to be joining University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE) as the Urban Agriculture and Food Systems Advisor for Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties.

Silicon Valley's culture of innovation, diverse culinary traditions, fertile soils, and Mediterranean climate offer unique food system opportunities. In addition to large tech companies, these two counties are home to roughly 1300 farms with agricultural production valued at more than $450 million. Yet high land values make it difficult for farmers to find and keep land. The high cost of living also contributes to many families' struggle to put healthy food on the table. According to Second Harvest Food Bank, one in three children in Silicon Valley are food insecure. Many of those who are hungry are employed, but don't make enough to cover basic expenses in what has become the country's richest region as well as its most expensive.

Despite these challenges, this is an exciting time to work on food and agriculture in Silicon Valley. Santa Clara County is in the process of implementing the Santa Clara Valley Agricultural Plan to preserve agricultural lands and support a vibrant agricultural economy. The nonprofit organization SPUR is piloting a program to make California-grown produce more affordable for low-income families at grocery stores in San Jose and Gilroy. Civically engaged residents successfully advocated for Urban Agriculture Incentive Zones in the City of San Jose, creating new opportunities to put vacant land to productive use. The region's urban farms are involved in growing food for school cafeterias, developing a food entrepreneurship program, and educating students and the general public about food and agriculture, among many other activities.

La Mesa Verde gardeners. La Mesa Verde is a program that helps low-income families in San Jose grow their own organic vegetables. Photo credit: La Mesa Verde, Sacred Heart Community Services
My background is in food systems research. Prior to joining UCCE, I worked as a researcher and lecturer at Santa Clara University.  While there, my research included a study of the impact of drought on urban agriculture and how urban farmers and gardeners in Santa Clara County responded. In collaboration with local partners and with the assistance of many volunteer gardeners, I researched how urban gardens contribute to food security—looking at how much food was produced, how much that food was worth, and its nutritional value. Another project examined some of the broader benefits associated with urban agriculture, such as education, community building, and civic engagement. In my role as an advisor, I'm looking forward to doing applied research, helping to educate about food and agriculture, and finding opportunities to collaborate with partners in the region. Over the next year, I'm making plans to map urban agricultural social networks and identify barriers to farm viability in Silicon Valley.

 Originally from Maine, I relocated to the Bay Area 15 years ago to pursue a PhD at UC Berkeley. For the past eight years, I've been working and raising my family in the South Bay. If you'd like to learn more about my work or Silicon Valley's food system, please be in touch. You can find me here: http://cesantaclara.ucanr.edu/Programs/contact/?facultyid=40005.

Posted on Monday, November 26, 2018 at 10:22 AM

Does Urban Agriculture Improve Food Security?

A newly published literature review in the Journal of Sustainability conducted by a team of Berkeley Food Institute researchers has found that while many studies cite the potential food security benefits of urban agriculture (UA), there are few that robustly measure the impact of urban farms on improving food security in low-income communities. Results of this review are guiding a three-year research project, funded by the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research and the Berkeley Food Institute to investigate and address urban food access challenges in the eastern region of the San Francisco Bay Area, where interest in UA abounds, yet levels of gentrification, food insecurity, and income inequality are growing.

Without understanding the actual links between UA and food security or which specific characteristics, models or approaches reduce insecurity, urban policymakers and advocates risk backing policies that could have unintended consequences or negative impacts on vulnerable individuals and communities. We argue that in addition to more robust analyses that measure the actual social, economic, and health impacts of urban agriculture, and how they impact food security, it is important to understand which approaches to policy, governance and civic engagement support UA models that are effective in reducing food insecurity.

In general, we see three trends in current scholarship on UA in relation to community food security: (1) a focus on the production potential of urban lands, (2) individual case studies highlighting various nutritional, health, and other community benefits or outcomes from urban gardening initiatives, and (3) more critical analyses of UA through food justice and equity lenses. To this latter point, robust theoretical analyses have emerged critiquing the risks of UA when approached without an equity lens, potentially reinforcing structural injustices and racism and negatively impacting communities that ideally should benefit the most.

Deeper historical and structural challenges including poverty, racism, and divestment in specific communities and neighborhoods are increasingly being recognized as the root causes of the problem of unequal access to sufficient supplies of safe, nutritious, affordable, and culturally acceptable food facing cities. Designating land for agricultural use in urban areas may conflict with other city planning priorities around affordable housing, community economic development, or smart growth approaches associated with reducing urban sprawl and mitigating climate change, such as transit-oriented development. Because of the persistent legacy of systemic discrimination, it is neither inevitable nor guaranteed that urban agriculture will redress food system inequities; in fact, urban farms can sometimes lead to displacement through eco-gentrification. This is a particularly acute concern in areas experiencing housing pressures and population growth, such as the San Francisco Bay area and New York City.

Analyzing the intersection of food access and food distribution literatures reveals three key factors mediating the effect of UA on food security in the urban food system:

(1) the economic viability of urban farms (to sustain the provisioning of affordable urban produced foods)

(2) the role of city planning and policies in advancing racial equity through UA such as secure land tenure and public investment, and

(3) the importance of civic engagement to advocate for and hold cities and counties accountable to the needs of low-income communities.

We highlight examples from both the scholarly and gray literatures that demonstrate how UA can improve food access, distribution, and justice, in a way that supports both consumers and producers of food in cities. The gray literature in particular reveals many emerging and informal distribution networks for urban produced foods that would benefit from further academic study, such as gleaning networks, distribution apps, and online platforms.

The review concludes with a set of recommendations for researchers, practitioners, and policymakers who seek to create spaces in cities for food justice, equity, access, and sovereignty. Most notably we acknowledge that urban farms are producing a lot more than food; and that equitable planning, public investment and civic engagement are crucial elements in securing the long-term viability of urban farms. More robust analyses documenting the multifaceted benefits and risks of UA such as public health, food security, youth development, food literacy, eco-gentrification and environmental justice can help inform more equitable public policy and planning efforts.

Urban Farm Story: Sacramento’s Yisrael Family Urban Farm

Yisrael Family Urban Farm is located on a double lot in the South Oak Park neighborhood of Sacramento, at the home of owners Judith and Chanowk Yisrael. South Oak Park is one of Sacramento's underserved communities; it has been called a “food desert,” with more fast food outlets than places selling healthy food. The half-acre farm currently includes a front-yard food forest with healing and culinary herbs, more than 40 fruit trees, rows of vegetable beds, herbs, a small flock of chickens, worm composting bins, beehives and a high tunnel hoop-house used for giving seedlings an early start in cold winter months. Yisrael Farm also makes space for community gatherings with welcoming tables and a circle of tree stumps and seats around a fire pit on a grassy area. The farm is home to many gardening and cooking workshops and other community gatherings.

Yisrael farm produces healthy food for the Yisrael family and their community. More importantly, Chanowk and Judith help to grow a healthy community by sharing their skills and knowledge, offering classes, workshops and programs for youth, and teaching others how to grow their own food and cook healthy meals. Their mission is to “transform the hood for G.O.O.D.” (G.O.O.D. stands for “Growing our own Destiny") using urban agriculture as a tool for community engagement, empowerment and employment. They demonstrate the benefits of growing your own food and principles of cultivation of the soil which they share with their local community and the world.

Programs include farm tours, volunteer work days, Urban Roots Garden Builds, which organizes neighborhood volunteers to create backyard gardens for Sacramento residents, and Project GOOD (Growing Our Own Destiny), which brings youth together to have fun while learning where food comes from, how it is grown and how to prepare it. In addition, the Yisrael family produces (and teaches others to produce) natural soaps, lip balms, candles, and lotions using herbs and beeswax from the farm. The Yisraels are also involved in advocacy efforts in support of Sacramento region urban farming policies that encourage and support urban agriculture.

The Yisrael family now raises 45 to 50 percent of their own food, and distribute some of their crops informally in their community. In 2017, they raised about 4000 pounds of food and hosted about 1500 visitors. Yisrael Farm operates an urban farm stand, selling directly from the farm to visitors. Farm stand products are fresh produce, farm-raised eggs, jams produced under a cottage food registration, and soaps and other body care products made using farm products. Marketing the food produced on the farm is not a major part of Yisrael Family Urban Farm's program. The major focus of Yisrael Farm is education. Programs and events and classes are marketed through the website, Facebook, Twitter and through community partners.

Good rich soil grows nutritious crops. Chanowk Yisrael has spent more than ten years building the soil at Yisrael Family Farm, using natural methods including composting, double-digging, cover-cropping and low-till techniques. The farm soil is now distinctively rich and loose and healthy, enabling the growth of abundant healthy food.

Becoming a farmer wasn't easy. Before 2007, Chanowk Yisrael was an information technology professional with no knowledge of agriculture. His first attempt at growing food, in 2007, was planting about 30 square feet with food crops, in July, in Sacramento. Everything died, as July is much too hot in Sacramento for starting a garden. Since then he has learned from experienced Northern California farmers how to grow food, and has taken to heart the advice of one of his mentors: "Forget about the plants; take care of the soil." Other challenges involved obtaining the right to sell produce grown on the farm, which was illegal until 2015. The Yisraels were involved in the community advocacy effort, led by the Sacramento Urban Agriculture Coalition, to legalize urban farm stands in both the city and the county of Sacramento.

Learn More

Address:

4507 Roosevelt Avenue, Sacramento, CA 95820

Website:

http://www.yisraelfamilyfarm.net/

Social Media links:

https://www.facebook.com/yisraelfarm/

Videos:

http://lecture.ucanr.edu/Mediasite/Play/9113f0a530c14549ab1410d614c5f0131d

http://lecture.ucanr.edu/Mediasite/Play/f9dfb812288e42ba90bb30d6de7265051d

Contact:

888-487-9494 option 2, sales@yisraelfamilyfarm.net

Posted on Friday, July 6, 2018 at 2:37 PM

Urban Farming and Water Conservation: A Way of Life on the City Farm

Reyna Yagi (ryagi@ucanr.edu), Northern California Urban Agriculture Program Coordinator, University of California Cooperative Extension - Alameda and Contra Costa Counties

Raised Bed Irrigation - Treasure Island Job Corps Farm
It has been a banner year for water in California. The above-average precipitation and snowpack in 2017 have ended a five-year drought spell, leading Governor Jerry Brown to officially end the drought state of emergency last April for the majority of California counties. However, Californians know that this refreshing watery reprieve does not mean our conservation efforts stop here. With a draft plan in the making by the State Water Board appropriately dubbed “Making Water Conservation a California Way of Life,” the long term trend from this point on is efficient water use and drought preparedness, especially as we face climate change challenges.

How can we as urban farmers do our part to conserve water? Turns out there are a lot of ways that not only will help to save our beautiful state's water, but also help you build a healthier farm or garden with less work on your hands!

The Challenge of Water Access
It's hard to talk about water conservation when many urban farmers run into issues of reliable access to water and affordability of municipal water. Increasingly though, municipalities are working with urban farms and community gardens to offer discounts or grants for water meter and service line installation, help calculate a water budget, and provide a plethora of trainings and resources on efficient irrigation practices and technology. Talk with your local water municipality to see if they have discounted water pricing or special programs (San Francisco is a good example) aimed at assisting urban farms and community gardens.
 
Start with Healthy Soils
We know building healthy soils is key for the production and longevity of our crops, but it also allows plants to use water more efficiently and saves you water in the long run. Adding organic matter to your soil increases soil nutrition which helps plants produce better yields and bountiful blossoms without adding more water. Whether sandy or clayey soils, compost reduces the soil's need for water by 30% on average. Top it off with 3-4 inches of straw mulch to further your conservation efforts by keeping soil cool, preserving moisture and reducing weed germination.

Tip Sheet: Building Fertile Soil – Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems UC Santa Cruz

Know What You Grow
Did you know it takes 33 gallons of water to produce a carrot while almonds require 1,280 gallons (find more facts here)? Follow seasonal crop patterns - cool season crops will take much more water in the heat of the summer. Once you decide what to grow, choose varieties that are labeled “drought-tolerant” or “widely adapted.” Be sure to group plants by similar plant watering requirements.

Tip Sheet: Your Food Garden During Drought – UC Master Gardener Program Contra Costa County

You Can't Manage What You Can't Measure
Do you know how much water your farm or garden uses? If you use a garden hose, you can estimate your flow rate by timing how long it takes to fill a five-gallon bucket. If it takes five minutes to fill, your flow rate is 1 gallon per minute. If you have an irrigation system and a water meter, it's easy to read your meter to find out your usage. There are also water gauges one can buy at your local hardware store as well. Keep a record; you may need it later.
 
Drip Irrigation is Your Best Friend
Drip irrigation is a worthwhile investment that not only reduces your workload, but conserves water by applying it where it is needed most and at a rate conducive to a plant's use. Another benefit for the farmer: it reduces weed growth, helps control mildew plus reduces fungus problems! Drip tape, soaker hoses, micro-sprinklers are among various types of efficient irrigation products you can use. Install shut-off valves to turn off areas that are fallow. Add an irrigation timer to automate your watering schedule. Controllers can also connect with rain and soil moisture sensors which shut the system off when enough water is applied.

Tip Sheet: Drip Irrigation – Installation and Maintenance – UC Master Gardener Program of Sonoma County

Tip Sheet: For the Gardener - Water Conservation Tips – Center for Agroecology & Sustainable Food Systems, UC Santa Cruz

Other Water Saving Techniques
  • Rainwater Harvesting allows you to capture rainwater from roofs, collect it in a cistern for diversion to your landscape for supplemental irrigation. You should also observe your site's water runoff patterns and see how you can manage and maximize your runoff to deal with large rain events, stormwater runoff and infiltration around your site. Consider a rain garden!

  Tip Sheet: Rainwater Harvesting – UC Master Gardeners of Nevada County

  • Dry Farming depends on the water stored in the soil from winter rains that plants can use in the spring as the weather warms. Plants rely on good soil moisture and deep roots to seek out this extra water without needing much supplemental irrigation. Grapes, potatoes, tomatoes, winter squash, fruit trees and grains can be dry-farmed.

  Tip Sheet: How to Dry Farm Tomatoes in  Contra Costa – UC Master Gardener Program – Contra Costa County

And Remember:

  • Deep watering wets entire root zones which promotes deeper root growth.
  • Always water early in the morning to prevent daytime water loss through evaporation.
  • Keep an eye on the weather! A refreshing rain or cool, cloudy day will extend the time between watering.
  • Maintenance, maintenance, maintenance. Visually inspect your drip system regularly for breaks, leaks and missing pieces. If you don't, your plants will certainly let you know with plant diseases.

California's agricultural industry is the largest in the nation and abroad, carrying with that a great responsibility to protect and conserve our resources. Urban farmers are highly cognizant of this. They are some of the most innovative and conservation-minded folks out there who understand the fragility of our water supply and their role in being model stewards of our lands and waters.

 

Posted on Tuesday, July 25, 2017 at 1:45 PM
  • Author: Reyna Yagi

Urban Farm Spotlight: GrowGood

In the most unlikely of spots, surrounded by warehouses, trains and light industry, GrowGood sits on a 1.5-acre site across the parking lot from the Salvation Army Bell Shelter. As you walk through the front gate, you find yourself amid hundreds of native plants and dozens of fruit and vegetable crops.

GrowGood is a Los Angeles-based non-profit urban farm with a mission to create urban agricultural programs that empower people and transform communities. Created in 2011 by Brad Pregerson and Andrew Hunt, GrowGood has worked with The Salvation Army's Bell Shelter to convert the vacant site adjacent to the shelter into an urban farm. The Bell Shelter is the largest homeless shelter west of Mississippi that provides a comprehensive transitional care program for up to 350 homeless men and women, many of them veterans.

GrowGood accomplishes its mission through three main strategies: (1) supplying a variety of nutritious, fresh produce to the Shelter's kitchen; (2) providing job training and meaningful resume-building employment opportunities for homeless and other vulnerable populations with the greatest barriers to employment; and (3) managing a therapeutic green space for spiritual and emotional healing.

Despite having been neglected for many years, GrowGood's soil biology has improved remarkably with time, patience, and beneficial cover crop seed mixes. GrowGood maintains organic practices without using chemical fertilizers, pesticides, or herbicides. The farm enriches its soil with compost and worm tea made on-site.

Most of what GrowGood produces goes to the shelter, including vegetables, herbs, and fruit, but you can also find their bounty in local Los Angeles restaurants.

Whether it's providing employment, providing nourishment, or hosting a community workshop – GrowGood has it all, and proves you don't need much space to “grow good.”

 

Learn More

Website:GrowGood

 

Social Media Links

Blog

Instagram

Facebook

YouTube

 

Email: jayne@grow-good.org  

Phone: (323) 645-0215

Posted on Wednesday, July 12, 2017 at 11:03 AM

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