Grow Where You Are: Community Partnerships Support Local Food Production

Reader Contribution by Eugene Cooke
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Effects of Drought on Agriculture

A drought can achieve results that years of protest could never achieve. As California’s water dries up, our whole nation can seize this opportunity to build a new local food system that is equitable and productive. Many committed folks have been organizing against corporate agribusiness and genetically modified organisms for years.

At this time, it seems the global climate forces have aligned with us to initiate a change to a more ecologically sustainable system of food production. As a native of Southern California, it is stunning to witness the environmental devastation that is the result of the expansion of metro Los Angeles and the surrounding counties. The highways, buildings, homes, lawns, swimming pools and golf courses have contributed to insane amounts of waste, toxicity and imbalance.

Still, this massive drainage of water use is only 20 percent of the human usage in California, 80% of the water is wasted in the corporate monocropping of a desert and factory farming to feed folks across the nation. Thirty percent of our country’s produce comes from this one state. Is that wise? The drought and irresponsible water management are putting a stop to this unsustainable corporate lust.

On a national scale, this is our opportunity to develop strategic systems for supporting local and urban growers. Small-scale farmers are struggling in poverty. At the same time, we see a steady increase in local food advocacy nonprofits in various states with some of their executive directors earning $80,000 and more.

Naturally, young people are directing their efforts to working as advocates rather than learning the skills of agroecology or veganic agriculture. Would this trend change if more local growers were becoming landowners and viewed as valuable community entrepreneurs?

Generational wealth in this country has been built on free labor and land ownership. These practices were both foreign and unlawful to the Indigenous stewards of this land. Still, it persists and is accompanied by a storm cloud of racism and financial servitude.  The epidemics of homelessness, vacant properties and lack of fresh food access in underinvested urban communities are connected to issues of land ownership. With access to land comes access to food and wealth. That is the history and the present.

Grow Where You Are

Grow Where You Are is a social enterprise focusing on assisting communities in creating local food abundance systems. After creating and studying small-scale urban food systems nationally and internationally for over 15 years, we see that even the most effective systems can be easily dismantled without land security. For this reason, we propose supporting local growers in a transition to home ownership with a dynamic web of community partnership.

In many urban areas, police and school teachers are offered homes with no down payment if they commit to serve the community for an agreed number of years. We see this model as a great place to begin for evolving our local food movement forward from the growers up. We have tried years of organizing, policy making and consumer lead advocacy to get systemic change in our food system. These tactics have limited success and time is quickening. At this critical moment, we can have maximum impact by directing resources and support to the small-scale growers and elevating them to a status of respected, valued civil servants. Do you value healthy food in the same way you value education for our children and public safety?

Creating a Generation of Urban Food Producers

By identifying committed local growers and placing them in refurbished “green homes” in underserved communities, we demonstrate real value and solution-based action. In Atlanta, where we have been involved in urban agriculture for nearly 10 years, we have fairly established urban ag training programs through organizations like HABESHA Inc. and Truly Living Well Center Natural Urban Agriculture. These programs have graduated hundreds of certified growers and still the number of committed urban food producers has increased very little in comparison.

A few of the graduates enter the nonprofit school garden arena, some look for another ‘training internship’ program and more simply continue their ‘job hunt’ in another more stable field of employment. These attitudes will dramatically shift as we witness urban farmers become landowners and continue to feed our communities at precisely the moment in our nation’s growth when illness, poverty, homelessness, racial reparations and the inevitable collapse of corporate agribusiness are converging in the collective consciousness.

How effective can school gardening programs be if there is no real investment in creating infrastructure for vibrant local production? How much more voice do homeowners have in the political decision making throughout our major cities when compared to the voice of renters in neighborhoods threatened by gentrification?

This is possible. This can happen. With this proactive step toward lifting up farming as an occupation of respect and value, we can encourage a flood of growers in our urban and peri-urban communities where it is most needed. As these small-scale, intensive practices become fully operational, we will be fearless in creating food sovereignty as the wasteful system of monocrops and factory farming of animals collapses in the west coast desert farmland. We will witness health and generational wealth in the communities where millions of foundation dollars have been evaporated by nonprofits implanting social programs and service projects that do very little to make these areas productive.

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