Addressing Hunger and Sustainable Food Systems Across America

When thinking about ways to help third world countries tackle food issues, some simple solutions may be as close as our own back yard. More and more, people are becoming concerned about their food’s origin and the impact it may have on the environment. Obesity rates are on the rise while health indicators are declining. Add to that the idea of “food deserts” areas in which residents must travel twice as far to reach a grocery store compared to a fast food chain or convenience store. All of these issues can be addressed by local sustainability plans tailored to the needs of the community. Accomplishing this on a local scale can eventually lead to a global impact. Let’s take a look at what some cities across America are doing to encourage independent programs.

Many cities are encouraging urban agriculture by changing zoning laws and providing safety nets for local farmers. Seattle, Washington has updated its land use codes to allow urban farms and community gardens in all zones. Food grown from rooftop greenhouses are also permitted. Residents are able to sell food grown on their property.  The Seattle Housing Authority has plans to develop 12 gardens in 3 mixed-income neighborhoods.

Cleveland, Ohio and Detroit, Michigan are similar in respect to the amount of vacant/unused land in each of their city boundaries.  In Cleveland, informal community gardens began to appear on unused lots, but they faced displacement as new projects began. The Cleveland City Council created an Urban Garden District in which the zoning is specifically for neighborhood gardens, the land cannot be used for other projects. In addition, Cleveland has a “Chicken and Bees” Ordinance that allows small livestock, including bees in all neighborhoods.

In Detroit, Michigan, there are half a million residents living in a food desert.  A coalition of nonprofits, farmers and community members are turning the abundance of land and labor into a source of local produce. Now, there are over 1,200 registered gardens, ranging from single family plots to community and school gardens. There are also 3 dozen market gardens that sell their produce at farmer’s markets.

Other cities are opting to increase residents’ access to healthy foods in variety of ways. To combat the food deserts in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, a coalition of both private and public sector entities formed a partnership to stimulate grocery store development in underserved communities. Seed money was used to encourage investment. This model has increased access to healthy food and provided 5,000 jobs to residents in low income neighborhoods. Philadelphia is a model for its successful private-public sector collaboration.

Minneapolis, Minnesota had a lack of farmer’s markets in low income areas. Decreasing the licensing fees and streamlining the lengthy process for local farming led to a surge in fresh produce in these areas. There are currently 21 small farmer’s markets operating in areas that had no representation previously.

Baltimore, Maryland has come up with an innovative way of serving residents living in food deserts. With the help of a local library and a locally owned grocery store, the solution was simple. Residents use the computers at the library to order food from the aforementioned grocery store. Orders are then aggregated and delivered to the library together, which reduces the delivery cost. The city subsidizes the delivery fee and residents then pick up their groceries and pay for them at the library.

Each city has tackled their obstacles to fresh produce in different ways. There is no one way that is correct when considering the needs of a community. What is needed is awareness of the issue and a desire to help solve it.  What does your community provide to residents wanting more locally grown food?

–Lianne Depino, Guest Blogger


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