After a brief hiatus, Urban Agriculturalist is back! Urban Agriculturalist is a series on the ways city and suburb dwellers use their land as a food resource.
Last week, the New York Times featured a few part-time professional urban farmers in areas of New York City where a high demand and low supply of produce cause dietary and health problems. Increasingly, residents are seeing their abundance of abandoned lots as a new kind of food wealth.
In places like East New York, Brooklyn and the South Bronx, neighbors are getting together to create community gardens. But instead of toiling away on shared crops, each group grows and tends to his or her own plot. This allows more autonomy in deciding what to do with those hard-earned veggies. While some groups eat or give away their crops, many others decide to bring the fruits of their labor to market as a secondary source of income. One couple featured in the article, Denniston and Marlene Wilks, made over $3,000 dollars last year from four allotments. But the farmers insist it is not about the money: a South Bronx farmer, Karen Washington told the New York Times: “We’re selling so that people in our neighborhood have good quality. There’s no Whole Foods in my neighborhood.”
The allotment gardens themselves are efficiently run, funded primarily by allotment rent checks (the Wilkses said they paid as little as $2 per 4’x8′ bed). The gardens also avoid expenses by using city services as much as possible. For example, the New York Parks Department has a seeding and soil testing service that is free, while the Bronx Zoo repackages their animal dung as free manure for city residents. As the creators of the SPIN-Farming method attest, municipal services make city farming a great deal cheaper than its large scale equivalent, where water drainage, pest control and regular soil testing are solely the farmer’s responsibility.
In addition to the increase in produce, low- and mid-income neighborhoods are enjoying an increase in farmer’s markets. Residents aren’t the only ones to notice, either. This week, a 60-person delegation from the U.N. Commission on Sustainable Development took tours of several allotment and fully-functioning urban farms. It is nice to see some government and policy leaders acknowledge that the grassroots action of growing veggies on allotment may have a profound impact on the way we eat.
Image credit: Todd Heisler for the New York Times