I am fascinated by the evolving role of urban ag in the community food system movement. It certainly has changed since its splashy beginnings in the 1980s and 1990s but what this story in the Sunday’s NYT points out is what I have also noticed: the belief that a large number of urban citizens want to grow their own food – and grow it every year – is not proven. I think the successful versions found anywhere are to scale and appropriate for the climate and demographic nearby. This might mean gardeners have a fallow season or maybe even a full year to recover and plan for the next planting or use their land for fruit trees. Here in New Orleans, we have a year-round growing culture with the most brutal weather in the summer: therefore, the idea of cover crops and soil solarization should be encouraged during June-September which gives people time to think and prepare for the fall planting.
The article quotes John Ameroso, who they interestingly call the “Johnny Appleseed of NY gardens” as someone who has that evolving view, he:
espouses more of what he calls an “urban agriculture” model: a food garden with a dedicated farmers’ market or a C.S.A. These amenities make stakeholders out of neighbors who may not like dirt under their nails and rural farmers who drive in every weekend.
“The urban-agriculture ones are flourishing,” he said. “There’s a lot of excitement. They’re active eight days a week.” But “community gardens, as such, where people come in to take care of their own boxes — those are not flourishing.”
It’s almost a cliché to point out that this new green model seems to have attracted tillers with a different skin tone. “Back then,” Mr. Ameroso said of his earlier career, “when we worked in Bronx or Bed-Stuy, it was mostly communities of color. Now when we talk about the urban agriculture stuff, it’s white people in their 30s.”
Production is the purpose of commercial agriculture and even for a community garden, it should be the goal. That production could be for a single home, or for donation or for income, but in every case a plan to produce food or plants should be required each year for every community garden space.