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The Urban Agriculture Movement: Partnerships in Motion

It’s fairly common for cities to have community gardens located on public parkland.  But what if these gardens were not just isolated patches of green space serving only the neighborhood they are located in?  What if these gardens were actually part of a larger citywide movement to promote urban sustainability?

A recent article on Urban Omnibus highlights the Five Borough Farm, a project of the Design Trust for Public Space, whose mission is to create a citywide plan to support urban agriculture in New York City by “bringing together urban farmers, community gardeners, educators, and advocates from across the city to partner with experts in sustainable development, urban planning, food policy and program evaluation.”  The project works in partnership with Added Value, a Brooklyn-based nonprofit that operates one of the city’s largest farms.  Mostly targeted towards youth, Added Value has helped revitalize local parks, transform vacant lands into vibrant Urban Farms, improve access to healthy, safe and affordable food, and begun to grow an economy that supports the needs of the community.

Over the course of this year, the Five Borough Farm team will be evaluating the city’s existing urban agriculture activity, establishing a set of metrics by which to quantify the benefits of urban agriculture and creating policy recommendations for relevant city agencies.

Nevin Cohen, an urban food policy expert and chair of Environmental Studies at the New School, is the Policy Fellow responsible for surveying the existing urban agriculture landscape in New York City and identifying new opportunities and recommendations.  As he explains in the interview:

Urban agriculture engages people citywide in initiatives to strengthen and improve the social, ecological, and economic well-being of their communities and, by extension, the city as a whole.  The scope of Five Borough Farm includes the youth leadership programs, school-based curricula, entrepreneurial rooftop farms, and related infrastructure – from composting projects to farmstands – that make urban agriculture such a powerful, multidimensional movement.  The urban agriculture system — and it really needs to be addressed as a system — is a promising model of community development that has the potential to improve many aspects of urban life.

Cohen also adds that the results of the project will be bigger than just growing healthier food:

But the benefits are about more than just the quantity of food that can be grown.  Community gardens make neighborhoods more livable, and also increase property values.  Innovative entrepreneurial urban farms create jobs and make underused spaces safe and productive.  Non-profit urban agriculture projects teach young people about ecology, food and nutrition, and help build skills and confidence.  Productive green spaces keep rainwater out of our sewer system, reduce the urban heat island effect, and recycle organic matter.  The impacts are far-reaching — as many practitioners will tell you, urban agriculture is a social justice movement.

One of the exciting aspects of this project is the idea that partnerships, in addition to measurable data, is the key to success.  The Five Borough Farm project hopes to bridge this more-often-than-not barrier and get practitioners constructively communicating with each other.

It is well-known that some of the most successful park systems rely on partnerships with others, from non-profits who provide volunteers for park clean-ups, to transportation departments who provide funding for trail improvements, to private individuals who provide endowments to create new parks.  Although it is true that one person can make a difference, just imagine the endless possibilities a team of committed individuals can accomplish.  The impacts could reach every park, community garden and neighborhood of an entire city.

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