Sunday, February 7, 2010

Growing Power: Sustainable Food Meets Community Development

How can you grow community agriculture? We went for a walk in the forest yesterday with some friends who are members of the same community supported agriculture share that we are. They’re not going to get a share this year, mostly because it’s hard to cook with novel vegetables when time is pressing. In my opinion, one of the greatest barriers to local, sustainable cooking is our need for knowledge. We need to get to know kale, chard, and celery root, but who has the time, really? And if we don’t have the time, where do the vegetables go? To the compost, unfortunately.

I’ve long yearned for a sustainable food resource center, one that brings together gardening and cooking and community development. One of the founders of such a center is visiting our city in a couple of months. Will Allen is coming to our city. He’s a former basketball player turned farmer, and he’s created an amazing community food center called Growing Power.

Imagine that you’ve removed your local supermarket. Instead, you replace it with bee hives, goats, and a whole host of plants at all stages of development. There are composters of all types, and a store even sells compost to those who want to use it in their own gardens. You run seed-saving classes, cooking classes, and other programs out of the space as well. The whole building is powered by sustainable energy, and it not only provides a place where people can be employed and volunteer, it also shapes food policy. In fact, the center also helps distribute value-added products for a network of local farmers. People in rural areas get marketing assistance and a ready-made network, and people in urban areas who didn’t have access to land or the knowledge to farm it grow that knowledge. It’s like a library that focuses on food literacy, and it’s close by, right in your neighborhood.

I hope that we’re growing such a center in our community, too. There’s talk of an urban farm that will be a mere twenty minutes by bus from where I live, right in the center of the suburbs. If the farm vision is realized, it will be a thriving vegetable-producing endeavor that sells produce to local residents. Local people will also be able to visit the farm and learn how to grow produce. If we can add some bees, some chickens, and some cooking classes, we might have our own version of a community food center just around the corner.

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