Aquaponics, a sustainable future?

https://www.flseagrant.org/aquaculture/aquaponics/

The human population is constantly increasing, making food, land, and other resources extremely valuable and scarce in some areas. The ability for people to have access to healthy food rather than easily obtainable unhealthy alternatives has become a growing issue in highly dense areas like cities. Luckily, where there is a problem there are usually solutions created to counter. There are many new types of farming systems being created every day with some being modified systems that were previously used in human history. Aquaponics is a system that has been gaining more support by the day but surprisingly this system has been around for decades. 

What is aquaponics?

In the combination of aquaculture and hydroponics, aquaponics is a method of growing plants alongside fishes in a closed system. This system can be considered two different types of systems that are combined to benefit each other. Water from the fish tanks is pumped to the soilless plants. The waist of the fish is absorbed by the plant for growth and the water is then circulated back to the fish. Thanks to this system no fertilizers, pesticides, or herbicides will be needed, and the water will continually be recycled with little to no water being lost compared to soil farms. The result is a farm that can produce locally grown fish and plants that are healthy, with no added pesticides or herbicides, and a minimal amount of carbon footprint for production or transportation. With the greatest benefit being the ability to implement almost anywhere. Space is becoming more and more valuable by the day with the ever-increasing human population. The possibilities are endless since this system can be designed for rooftops, basements, warehouses, backyards, etc. 

History

https://blitzlift.com/rice-and-fish-farming-go-hand-in-hand/

There are various examples throughout our history of similar systems to aquaponics. In Asia, it is normal to find fish in the paddy rice fields. Chinese record showing that this practice dates as far back as 2,000 years. The reason that this system is used in this setting is to reduce the number of pests and weeds in the paddy rice fields. 

https://www.ancient-origins.net/ancient-places-americas/chinampas-floating-gardens-mexico-001537

Similarly, the Aztecs had a system where they would build chinampas for crop growing. Chinampas was a technique used in Mesoamerican agriculture that used island-like platforms for crop growing on the shallow lake beds in the Valley of Mexico. These ancient systems would later be modified for more efficiency and productivity by researchers.

Benefits

Sustainability is the key to a healthier future for not only humans but the plant and its ecosystems. Aquaponics fit perfectly as a sustainable form of farming without using fertilizers, pesticides, or herbicides. These systems are extremely useful for places that have space limitations. There are many designs for these systems that can be modified to fit these areas. Ultimately, providing a year-round farming system that can be implemented in underdeveloped communities with space limitations, and water restrictions. There is even the option to create a zero-fossil fuel system by implanting solar panels to create energy for the pumps.

Work Cited 

“Aquaponics: the Potential to Produce Sustainable Food Anywhere.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 11 Apr. 2014, http://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/aquaponics-sustainable-food-production-plants-fish.

Bitto, Robert. “Chinampas, Floating Gardens of Ancient Mexico.” Mexico Unexplained, 11 May 2020, mexicounexplained.com/chinampas-floating-gardens-of-ancient-mexico/.

“Chinampa.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 4 Dec. 2020, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinampa.

“Fish and Rice Flourish Together in Paddies.” SciDev.Net, http://www.scidev.net/global/news/fish-and-rice-flourish-together-in-paddies/.

Oon, Samanta. “Aquaponics: Sustainable Urban Farming.” FoodUnfolded, 6 June 2019, http://www.foodunfolded.com/article/aquaponics-sustainable-urban-farming.

“Paddy Field.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 2 Dec. 2020, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paddy_field.

Grow To Learn, Grow To Love:

Bringing Children Into the Garden and Those Veggies Onto Their Plates

                “Eat your veggies or no dessert!”

                Have you ever said those words? Has someone said them to you? If you are a parent, the answer might be yes to both questions. It is well known fact that parents have struggled to encourage their children to eat their vegetables. There they are sitting there getting cold, soggy and sad. There on the plate next to all stars like mac n’ cheese and fried chicken, that broccoli looks so lonely, so uninviting. How can we change this story?

Studies have shown that children who take part in gardening fruits and vegetables are much more likely to want to eat those foods (PFLEGER, 2015). Urban gardening is a great way to involve children in the growing of their food and improve their understanding of where their food comes from. A program in Colorado called Denver Urban Gardens (DUG), works with local schools in the area to build gardens on their campuses. The produce is then sold to the school lunch programs and the children get to eat the vegetables they have helped grow.

Gardening With Young Children has Many Benefits

  • Children Can Practice Motor Skills– Watering, using small tools and grasping delicate plants are all important in motor skill development.
  • Sensory Stimulation– Playing with water, the soil and plants and enjoying the different textures and smells, are all important in a child’s development.
  • Visual Beauty and New Flavors– Teach children an early appreciation for nature’s beauty and at the same time familiarize them with food outside the dinning room.
  • Literacy– Teaching children the names of plants and vegetables can be a useful way to familiarize them with nature and help them with reading and writing.
  • Cognitive development– Strengthen children’s cognitive skills by teaching the growing process and by predicting outcomes such as, watering needs, growth and care.
  • Togetherness– Being outside and in the fresh air with your children is good for their mental and physical health. (Butche, 2017)

If They Grow Them, They Will Eat

Any activity spent with your children is a worth while one. Building a garden at home is a great way for you to spend time with your family and teach/learn important lessons, like how to grow specific crops, what plants need to survive and thrive and a sense of responsibility in the care of something living. Here are some great crops that are perfect for growing at home with your children:

  • Green Beans– These vegetables are a great option as they are relatively easy to grow and fun to eat. They also help fix nitrogen into your soil making them a great addition to any home garden.
  • Cherry Tomatoes– Everyone loves home grown tomatoes! Cherry tomatoes taste great, are fun to eat, and are super easy to grow.

  • Potatoes– Everyone loves French fries! Potatoes are a great home garden option because you can grow them in a container or even a bucket. This is the best option as well, because potatoes can take over your garden if you plant them directly in the soil. (ProTip: harvest the potatoes when the flowers on the plant die).
Time to Harvest!
  • Carrots– What kid doesn’t want to be like Bugs Bunny munching on a carrot? These orange roots are a great idea for the home garden because they can survive most climates and they are delicious! (Run Wild My Child, 2019)

I hope that you all will take these ideas and bring your children and/or yourselves out into the garden and start growing!

References

Butche, K. (2017, 4 24). Gardening with young children helps their development. Retrieved from Michigan State University: https://www.canr.msu.edu/news/gardening_with_young_children_helps_their_development

PFLEGER, P. (2015, 8 10). Healthy Eaters, Strong Minds: What School Gardens Teach Kids. Retrieved from The Salt: https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2015/08/10/426741473/healthy-eaters-strong-minds-what-school-gardens-teach-kids

Run Wild My Child. (2019, July 5). Gardening with Kids: 5 Easy Vegetables to Grow. Retrieved from Run Wild My Child: https://runwildmychild.com/easy-vegetables-to-grow-with-kids/#:~:text=Green%20beans%20are%20perfect%20for%20growing%20in%20a,spot%20and%20can%20also%20be%20grown%20in%20pots.

Incentive zones in urban agriculture

What is AB 551?

AB 551, also called the urban agriculture incentive zones act began in 2013. This act allows cities and counties to provide landowners a property deduction if they commit their land to urban agriculture use for at least five years. This bill aims to increase the use of privately owned, vacant land for urban agriculture and improved land security for urban agriculture projects. The legislation does this by allowing city governments, with approval from their county board of supervisors, to designate areas within their boundaries as “urban agriculture incentive zones.”

How it works?

This act works by landowners signing a contract to commit the land that they own to agricultural use for at least five years. In return, they will receive a tax deduction. Specifically, their parcel’s property tax assessment will be based on the agricultural value of the land rather than the market-rate value of the land.

Important restrictions/guidelines

– it is important to know that urban agriculture incentive zones can only be established in areas that:

  • Fall within a US Census designated urban area of 250,000 people or more.  This includes the major cities and most of the inner suburbs in the West, South and East Bay.
  • Have not been covered by Williamson Act contracts within the preceding three years

– in addition, to be eligible, individual parcels must be:

  • At least 0.1 acre in size and no larger than 3 acres
  • Completely dedicated toward commercial or noncommercial agricultural use
  • Free of any dwellings and only have physical structures that support the agricultural use of the site

– Each year the assessment basis of land under contract will be based on the average per acre value of irrigated cropland in California as reported by the US Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service.  In 2012, this was $12,000 per acre.

– If a landowner breaks the five-year contract, they are obligated to pay back the tax benefit that they received.

It is very important to take each of these into consideration for both the landowner and the people in charge of the farms. This act benefits not only the people in the cities, but it also benefits the landowner. They not only get a tax deduction, but they also probably feel good knowing the land that they own is feeding people that may not have had this readily available.

Extension of the act
 The extension bill, which is named AB 465 has already passed the Assembly Local Government and Agriculture committees with unanimous support. The next step is that it now moves to more committees in the legislature. If they are successful to this point, it will reach the governor’s desk in the fall. With the low cost of establishing urban agriculture incentive zones and the continued interest from advocates and cities, extending the program through 2029 makes sense and SPUR is hopeful that it will pass.

Hopefully, with the extension of this act, more landowners and towns will be more aware of what they can accomplish by growing an urban farm.

Why We Need To Take Ownership of Our Own Trash

For urban farming to succeed, there must be a collective effort beyond the people who manage the operations of the urban farm lot and distribution of harvested produce. This is due to the fact because urban farming is inherently community oriented and requiring a large amount of participation from the city of operations. Purchasing fresh produce and other products from institutions such as farmers markets and community supported agriculture are actually only initial steps to sustaining farmers markets because the majority of urban farms operated using primarily sustainable and organic practices. Such sustainable farming practices consist of closed cycles for resource conservation and recycling that has to be practiced on the greater community. The most well-known technique for resource cycling and conservation in urban areas is composting organic matter that would have ended up in landfills.

The reason for the community needing to be responsible for composting is that compostable yard and food waste is 26 percent of the waste produced in the United States. In the regions where farmers markets and CSA are popular, a large portion of food waste comes from the community gardens and urban farms where this food is produced. This food waste ends up being destined for landfills where large amounts of methane are produced further exacerbating the warming of our planet that especially in Southern California has led to an increased issues for urban agriculture related to excessive heat, lack of rainfall and supplemental water, and unpredictable temperatures affecting the life-cycle of plants resulting in lower yields. Another prevalent issue related to urban farming and the lack of composted soils is the high number of vacant lots that are contaminated with substances such as heavy metals that create a soil unsuitable for plant growth and may even create an environment too toxic for humans to be around.

HOW SPUD KEEPS FOOD OUT OF THE LANDFILL, AND REDUCE FOOD WASTE TOO -  SPUD.ca | Food wastage, Food waste, Save food

Composting although well-known in general as a practice used for organic growing, is not very well understood by the general public which is the most probable reason for the lack of interest in public participation in composting. Composting is by the public first seen as a task done by those who operate the farm or municipal waste companies, although none of these institutions are the primary contributors to organic waste. People who do understand that they can compost their own waste may be timid to do so because they lack a complete understanding of the practice and see it as a task that is less sanitary and more difficult to complete than it actually is. The reality is that healthy soils especially in urban areas rely on composting to hold water and nutrients, support soil organisms that perform a number of ecosystem services, and remediate toxic soils creating a safe environment for human activities. Composting can be as simple as wasting such as nitrogen containing food scraps with carbon containing paper and cardboard scraps and combining them into a compost pile or machines such as tumblers that combined with air, heat, and oxygen circulation will create a hummus substance that has a sweet smell and several environmental benefits.

Community-Scale Composting At Urban Gardens And Farms | BioCycle

While there are some government efforts to divert organic wastes from landfill, it seems that in many of the cities where urban farming is prevalent, the public is showing an increasing interest in composting for the benefit of the community. In other major areas such as Washington D.C. there are community-based composting efforts that have been successful in diverting 10 tons of food wastes from landfills since 2015. In Los Angeles, non-profit organization LA Compost has since 2013 been a pioneer in creating high quality compost from residential food scraps creating a decentralized system of waste collection centers in places such as farmers markets as well as several composting centers that will eventually be used to remediate soils around the city benefiting much more than just urban farms. It is very exciting to know that people especially in major cities are beginning to take control of their own trash and making responsible decisions that can ensure a hospitable environment and sustainable food supply is available for future generations.

LA Compost

References

Brolis, L. (2018). Community-Scale Composting at Urban Gardens and Farms. Biocycle. https://www.biocycle.net/community-scale-composting-urban-gardens-farms/

Green City Grower. (n.d.). The (Not-So-Stinky) Truth about Composting . Received from https://greencitygrowers.com/blog/the-not-so-stinky-truth-about-compost/#:~:text=Compost%20is%20great%20for%20the,and%20use%20moisture%20and%20air.

LA Compost. (n.d.). Our Story. Received from https://www.lacompost.org/story

Smith, D. (2010). Composting 101 for Citydwellers. Grist. Received from https://grist.org/article/food-composting-101-slideshow/

Should Gardening be grounded or allowed to flow?

A section of the hydroponics system in Portsmouth, England. (2020).

Urban gardens in cities need plenty of room, soil, light, and water. Without some of those, plants cannot grow to their full capacity or bear any produce. Plants can indeed live without what we know as “soil.” Plants can live in running water as long as they have sunlight and oxygen to respirate with; this is called “hydroponics.”  Hydroponics is a wonderful way to grow plants without the traditional soil being what hold downs and keeps the plant rooted. There are perks to having a hydroponics system such as:

  1. No chemical sprays for pests or weeds
  2. No weeds
  3. Crops can be produced quicker
  4. Saves lots of water (up to 80%) (Rumble 2020).

The Perks of “Ponics “

A study conducted in Portsmouth, England, had an urban garden monitored and how they use their hydroponics system. While maintaining their garden, they also observed how sustainable their garden is and compared it to when they were not using hydroponics. Constantly using the soil that has been around for decades or soil that may be contaminated form other issues nearby, can create soil that will not produce any good food or be completely oversaturated with the incorrect elements. “At a point in time in which soil fertility is greatly depleted by industrial agriculture, these systems have already demonstrated that they can lower demand for agricultural land in rural areas” (Despommier, 2010). The soil that has been continuously used over the course of hundreds of years gathers an abundant source of debris and sometimes has too much of a certain element. Finding soil that contains the perfect balance of nitrogen, iron, and carbon, can be difficult in urban gardens due to the industrial influences. Using a hydroponics system to grow crops and provide for those who are food-insecure locally, can help tremendously in single occurrences or multiple. Having a place to go and get food that was grown on the roof top of ones’ apartment building cuts down on transportation cost, hefty mortgage/ rent payments for land, and ensures that food is going to be available steps from ones’ residence.

The Importance of Space in Small Areas     

Space/ land, is a hot commodity that when citizens try to get land for their agriculture use, it is covered with “red tape,” leases, and legal jargon that can be taxing to those who just want to provide food for the underserved. In Portsmouth, the study had concluded that it is much easier to use the space available and implement hydroponics because of all the perks it comes with. “…the possibility of increasing the number of urban gardens without necessarily expanding the surface area of green areas dedicated to gardening” (Caputo, Rumble, Schaefer, 2020). The way hydroponics works is that it does not take up acres upon acres. Hydroponic systems are capable of being stacked several layers to create the most produce per square foot. This helps reduce the amount of space used for just a few crops and creates more space for other crops to be grown in. Keeping crops in places where they are needed the most to utilize the space they are in, allows for people who live in small residences to partake in farming for themselves or neighbors.

Caputo, S., Rumble, H., & Schaefer, M. (2020). “I like to get my hands stuck in the soil”: A pilot study in the acceptance of soil-less methods of cultivation in community gardens. Journal of Cleaner Production, 258 doi:http://dx.doi.org.proxy.library.cpp.edu/10.1016/j.jclepro.2020.120585

D. Despommier. The Vertical Farm: Feeding the World in the 21st CenturyMacmillan, London, UK (2010)

How much can one individual Impact? Analyzing food waste in the U.S.

            As we saw in this week’s modules, we saw that urban agriculture contributes on a local level. The positive impacts varied from feeding the community to compost. For today, an aspect that captured my attention was how much food is wasted in the U.S. which according to the USDA is about 30-40% which equates to $161 billion. This is a lot of food that can just as easily be composted. While some is from production being unable to keep up with the perfection standards another part come from individual effort. The United States Environmental Protection Agency calculated that as of 2018, 68% of food in homes is wasted which accumulates to 42.8 million tons of food wasted. Out of that percentage the United States Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 30% could be composted at home. This would help us reduce our carbon footprint individually and as a whole.

Recommended U.S. EPA ways to prevent waste

  • Make grocery list according to your meals not vice versa.
  • Estimating how much of each product will be needed per meal. For example if you are cooking fajitas and it is just you just buying one bell pepper.
  • Taking inventory of the household items before shopping.
  • Learning how to store items. Bananas release ripening gases so if put near other fruits it will ripen all of the fruit. Freezing items especially seasonal.
  • Perishable items can be precooked and frozen. This can mean if you have more time to cook on Sundays and you bought everything to make a sandwich you can prep these and stick them in the freezer.
  • Recycling stale food turning bread into croutons. Or repurposing meals that were once made and left over into another meal.

An article Scientific American reports on ways that people have found ways to cut food waste. An example of this is restaurants donating food that would otherwise go to waste in order to help feed the poor. Some even use vegetables that are no longer in their prime as a cheap alternative to livestock feed. An extreme people are willing to go to in order to protect the environment and save some money is known as “freeganism”. Freeganists are so dedicated to they take it one step further and depend on food waste that us dumped. Essentially they live off of dumpster diving which not only prevents more food going to waste but also help mitigate some of the effects of those who do waste. For those who prefer less extreme options the U.S EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) provides a guide to how people can compost at home both indoors and outdoors.

Composting at home the DO’s

  • Provide the compost with plenty of water to aid the decomposition process.
  • Browns such as dead leaves, branches, and twigs can be composted.
  • Greens such as grass clippings, vegetable waste, fruit scraps (banana peels), and coffee grounds. 
  • More randomized items that can be put into compost: dryer and cleaner lint, newspapers, hair and fur and fire place ash.
  • Alternate layers of green and brown (sort of like a casserole). Make sure items are of varying sizes as smaller pieces will decompose a lot faster.

In a previous research I had conducted ash can help make an acidic soil more basic. It also provides more organic matter which promotes the bacteria and fungi to reproduce more due to the ample food supply. When applied to the soil overtime there will be a layer of black “soil” which indicates a soil horizon of high organic matter content. To avoid smell, rodents, and other pests you must follow a proper way of composting and not add every waste items.

Composting DON’T

  • Do not add any animal wastes such as unwanted meats, fats or bones.
  • Dairy products like yogurt cannot be composted.
  • Oils, grease, or fats may not be composted. If composted it will attract pests and bad smells. 

Although compost are very beneficial Harrison believed many had a false assumption that composting is fertilizer. While it can provide minimal nutrient content it cannot be available to the plant until it is fully decomposed. Nitrogen as its plant available form is ammonium or nitrate. In the initial stages fertilizer will be needed to see significant growth of plants decrease int the need for fertilizer. This is due to higher microbial activity which can help with pore space, added layer of protection from pests, and a water retention layer that helps regulate water. 

In conclusion, there is a lot more to do to reduce food waste in the U.S.. Though there are many right steps such as the LA Kitchen or imperfect vegetable companies who sell at reduced price we are not exactly where we should be. However, if we all do our part by things like composting or analyzing the way we shop we can mitigate some of the issues at hand.

Sources:

Composting At Home. (2020, October 29). Retrieved November 30, 2020, from https://www.epa.gov/recycle/composting-home

Food Waste FAQs. (n.d.). Retrieved November 30, 2020, from https://www.usda.gov/foodwaste/faqs

Harrison, R. B. (2008). Composts. Retrieved November 30, 2020, from https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/agricultural-and-biological-sciences/composts

Reducing Wasted Food At Home. (2020, October 29). Retrieved November 30, 2020, from https://www.epa.gov/recycle/reducing-wasted-food-home

Waste Land: Does the Large Amount of Food Discarded in the U.S. Take a Toll on the Environment? (2010, March 03). Retrieved November 30, 2020, from https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/earth-talk-waste-land/

Stay Connected with Your Community Supported Agriculture

Urban agriculture has been gaining popularity due to the benefits in the community. Urban agriculture helps provide food security and helps create an economy by also creating environmental benefits. It is important to support local farms in your community in order to continue to provide fresh produce to families that need it. One way to continuously support your local agriculture is purchasing a Community Supported Agriculture share(CSA). Community Supported Agriculture has been around for over 25 years and has tens of thousands of families signed up. 

CSA is essentially a box of locally grown fruits of vegetables from a farm in your community. This box may come every week or bi-weekly and could contain almost anything that was harvestable in the farm that week. This box could either be delivered to you, or you could pick it up at the farm, or they will have a pick up location in your community. CSA is a great way to support your local farm without having to worry about when or what vegetables to get. This might not be a great alternative to someone who is picky, but you can put restrictions on some or limitations on your boxes. Your CSA can also include meat, cheese, eggs, bread, and other artisan products.  

How much is a CSA, and is it worth the price? 

Figuring out if a CSA is worth the price definitely varies on what area you live in, and how much you may already spend on fresh produce. I attached links down below to a few articles that I have found that list out the items they have received in their CSA boxes compared to what they pay in the stores. In all the articles, there have always been more savings with the CSA boxes. The quality of the vegetables have all been demonstrably better with the CSA boxes, and this may be a result of growing and eating vegetables in season. 

How do you find a local CSA? 

Honestly, finding a local CSA was not easy. My first attempt was on a website called Local Harvest, and it is a website where local farms can sign up. Unfortunately there were only ten farms near me in Vero Beach, Florida and the majority of the farms have not updated their information within the last five years. After more searching and no results, I began to just look for local farms in my community and call them to see if they did CSAs and how to sign up. I finally found City Side Farms, which is located within ten miles of me, and they deliver their produce. They have their own website for setting up whatever delivery option works best for you. Although this farm only specializes in microgreens and wheatgrass, hopefully if you are struggling to find a farm near you, you can always do a basic google search of farms near me. Calling or even visiting local farms might be the only way to find out about their CSA programs because there are not many updated sites nationally. 

Are there any risks for joining a CSA? 

In majority of the CSAs members will pay in full for the whole season and then the farmers will use this money to provide a bountiful box. It is not guaranteed that each box you received will be the same amount of produce and this may vary with seasons. If at any point your box is very limited you may receive a reimbursement. For the CSA model they make sure their customers get served first but there are rare occasions where a few crops do not make a successful yield. 

References:

Search – LocalHarvest. (n.d.). Retrieved December 02, 2020, from https://www.localharvest.org/search.jsp?jmp

(n.d.). Retrieved from https://hvfarmscape.org/sites/default/files/csa_price_comparison_study.pdf

CSA: More for your money than fresh vegetables (Research Brief #52). (n.d.). Retrieved December 02, 2020, from https://www.cias.wisc.edu/csa-more-for-your-money-than-fresh-vegetables/

Who Really Benefits?: Criticisms of AB 551 Urban Agriculture Incentive Zones Act

When it comes to creating urban farms one of the biggest hurdles for farmers and communities to tackle is access to land and land security. This issue is particularly challenging in larger cities across California where little land is available and where any available land is in high demand. Many farms, most notable being the South Central Farm, have been subjected to the whims of landlords who seek the most profitable opportunities as opposed to what opportunities or uses may be most needed in a community. Land access is most difficult in marginalized communities where people have less power due to political and economic limitations.

Issues with AB 551 The Urban Agriculture Incentive Zone Act

A garden in San Francisco designated as an urban Agriculture Incentive Zone.

In 2014 California lawmakers passed AB 551 the Urban Agriculture Incentive Zones Act which gave tax breaks to property owners who agreed to dedicate their land to urban agriculture uses for a minimum of 5 years. This law was intended to help alleviate the issues surrounding land access to urban farming projects and to provide security to these farms. 

While the intentions for the act may have been positive some have criticized the act as they feel it neglects the issues faced by low-income marginalized communities and their access to land (Havens & Roman-Alcalá, 2016). 

Some of the issues brought up by food justice activists concern…

  • The limitations of the 5-year minimum to provide adequate security.
  • The optional factor of incentive programs which relies on landowners choosing to participate.
  • The inability of the act to address issues of marginalized communities directly (Havens & Roman-Alcalá 2016).

Land Ownership in Marginalized Communities

 

 Farmers in Detroit participating in the Detroit Black Farmer Land Fund. A fund created to support black farmers efforts to own their farm land.

Land access and security is an issue that greatly affects marginalized communities, particularly those that are made up of people of color and are low-income. For example, 98% of private farmland in the U.S. is owned by white people (Horst & Marion, 2019). When it comes to homeownership in California 62.7% of white people own homes compared to only 57.6% of Asians, 41.9% of Hispanic peoples, and only 34.5% of African Americans (Homeownership and Inequality, 2016). These disparities are the result of years of racial injustice in the U.S. in which people of color were legally unable to own land or were restricted or faced larger hurdles to land ownership than white Americans. If you are interested to read more about some of these effects in Los Angeles, historian Ryan Reft wrote a great article for KCET about redlining and its effects on homeownership by people of color

AB 551 does not address who owns this land or help to facilitate ownership of land by people who live in marginalized communities. Many supporters of urban agriculture as a potential solution to food sovereignty feel that the best way to fight for this cause and help a community is for that community to control their own food system, this would entail long-term land security. The 5 year minimum has been criticized as it does not encourage the creation of farms that will be permanent or long term fixtures in a community. Urban farms often take longer to establish do to the constraints of the urban environment, such as soil contamination and needed infrastructure for farming. Because of this, many critics feel that 5 years is not near long enough for a farm project to make a great effect (Havens & Roman-Alcalá, 2016).

Eco-Gentrification

Rendering of Omni Community Park and Gardens in Vancouver, Canada. This luxury housing project used their on site community urban farm as a marketing tool to attract renters.

Due to the lack of land ownership by marginalized communities they are more vulnerable to gentrification and displacement. Gentrification is the process in which wealthy people move into a poorer neighborhood, altering the characteristics of that neighborhood. This often results in the raising of rent costs and prices of necessities within a neighborhood. Raising rent and living costs displaces marginalized community members as they are forced to move out of their neighborhoods. 

Those critical of AB 551 fear that it will be used as a tool for Eco-Gentrification. Eco-Gentrification is the use of green spaces, including gardens and urban farms, as tools for gentrification. Gardens and urban farms have been created as marketing ploys to attract residents to new cities in the process of gentrification. The creation of these greenspaces is positive as they are beneficial to the environment and people living there but when they are not designed for and by the existing community, they therefore work to exclude the people who suffer the most from food insecurity and injustice. AB 551 may encourage landowners to create small term farm projects as interim use projects before the creation of new developments. These interim farm projects may be created to “beautify” a neighborhood by developers to attract wealthier residents instead of creating a farm that will benefit those who are food insecure.

Food Justice, Food Insecurity, & Food Sovereignty

Sign posted outside of South Central Farm durings its battle by activists to save the farm from closure.

In the U.S. food insecurity affects 21.2% of African Americans and 16.2% of Hispanic people compared to only 10% of white Americans (Americans Key Statistics & Graphics, 2019). If urban agriculture is to be a solution to food insecurity, food justice, and food sovereignty, communities of color and those that suffer from poverty need to have easier access to land to be farmed. Solutions should have the needs of these communities at the forefront so that their access to urban farming be made easier. As it stands AB 551 may be a first step in the right direction as it acknowledges the issues of land security but if a solution is to be most effective it needs to address long term farm security and the lack of land ownership within marginalized communities who are most affected by food insecurity.

Reference List

Havens, E., & Roman-Alcalá, A. (2016). Land for Food Justice? AB 551 and Structural Change. Retrieved from https://foodfirst.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/UrbanAgS2016_Final.pdf

Homeownership and Inequality. (2016). Retrieved from http://centerforcaliforniarealestate.org/research/academic%20papers/2016.06.28%20-%20Ownership%20and%20Inequality.pdf

Horst, M., & Marion, A. (2019). Racial, ethnic and gender inequities in farmland ownership and farming in the U.S. Agriculture and Human Values. doi:https://doi.org/10.1007/s10460-018-9883-3

Key Statistics & Graphics. (2019). Retrieved December 01, 2020, from https://www.ers.usda.gov/topics/food-nutrition-assistance/food-security-in-the-us/key-statistics-graphics.aspx

Things to know before building an Urban Garden

Urban gardens 

          The popularity of urban gardens has grown scientifically over the pass few years. Urban gardens help provide food security for families who do not have easy access to healthy foods or cannot afford food. With an increase of people creating urban garden they are buying a lot supplies like fertilizers, seeds, and pesticides. What many of these homeowners do not realizes is there are risks of working in an urban garden. Polluted soil and chemical exposers are the most common dangerous health risks in an urban garden. Even using things to help your garden like pesticides and fertilizer can put your health at risk. 

Contaminates 

          Soil contaminates and chemicals are part of urban farming. What people do not realize is that their home soil can contain contaminate residue form past land usage. These contaminates are usually caused by human or environmental factors. The Environmental Protection Agency has a list of common contaminated lands. The most common chemical element found in urban gardens is lead. In an article published by the University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources stated, “ongoing exposure to lead can cause damage to the nervous system and interfere with brain development, along with creating other health problems”. There are other types of contaminates that can be found in urban gardens that can cause major health problems. 

List of Contaminates to be Aware of 

  • Industrial materials 
  • Chemical waste 
  • Hazardous materials 
  • Petroleum
  • Lead 
  • Pesticides
  • Fertilizer
  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCB)
  • Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC)   
  • Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAH)

Ways to be Exposed 

          Exposer to contaminates from soil pollution or chemicals can lead to serious health problems. According to the Soil Science Society of America there are several ways how people can be exposed to soil contaminates. The most common ways that a person can be exposed is through indigestion, skin exposer, and inhaling.

          Foods grown in contaminated soil can absorb the toxic material in the soil. Eating these foods from contaminated soil without properly cleaning or inspection can lead to severe health risks. Ingesting contaminated food can cause kidney or liver damages. 

          Skin exposers is another entire point where soil contaminated, or chemical particle can enter the human body. People working in contaminated sites must ware proper personal protective equipment. Skin exposer can cause infections or irritation.

          Soil contaminates or chemical sprays are the most common airborne particles that are caused by wind or human disturbance. Inhaling these particles can caused health problems to the respiratory system affect the lungs or nervous systems.  

What to do before building 

          If you are preparing to build an urban garden in your home here are some things to consider. First get to learn the history of your area and your soil. Knowing the history of your site can help you learn if your soil has an agricultural or industrial history. Second test your soil for contaminates to confirm this site is safe. Soil test kits are cheap to buy and easy to use I recommend buying one. If the tests show the soil to be contaminated and damaged maybe consider replacing the entire soil with cleaner plan soil. Finally while working in the garden with any chemicals or fertilizers wear the proper personal protective gear to avoid contaminate exposer it will keep you safe. There is a lot of benefits of having your own urban garden but make sure you know how to properly manage your garden to produce healthy food options for your family. 

References

Soil Science Society of America, Soil Contaminants (n.d.). Retrieved November 25, 2020, from https://www.soils.org/about-soils/contaminants/

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Polluting our Soils is Polluting our Future (February 2, 2018). Retrieved November 25, 2020, from http://www.fao.org/fao-stories/article/en/c/1126974/

Surls R., Borel V., Biscaro A., Soils in Urban Agriculture: Testing, Remediation and Best Management Practices for California Community Gardens, School Gardens, and Urban Farms (n.d.). Retrieved November 25, 2020, from https://learn-us-east-1-prod-fleet02-xythos.content.blackboardcdn.com/5eb1a317e2761/8161119?X-Blackboard-Expiration=1606392000000&X-Blackboard-Signature=F%2BBhgzxM57nExzJDjg9CQGVpu9q7h82oiCvigJviyTw%3D&X-Blackboard-Client-Id=133161&response-cache-control=private%2C%20max-age%3D21600&response-content-disposition=inline%3B%20filename%2A%3DUTF-8%27%27ANR%2520Publication%25208552%2520Soils%2520in%2520Urban%2520Agriculture%25281%2529.pdf&response-content-type=application%2Fpdf&X-Amz-Algorithm=AWS4-HMAC-SHA256&X-Amz-Date=20201126T060000Z&X-Amz-SignedHeaders=host&X-Amz-Expires=21600&X-Amz-Credential=AKIAZH6WM4PL5SJBSTP6%2F20201126%2Fus-east-1%2Fs3%2Faws4_request&X-Amz-Signature=f7a969187fb0885aabee828ea3dfe3d87eaf6d5a796d8cd04da8e5d011584228

United States Environmental Protection Agency, Contaminated Land (n.d.). Retrieved November 25, 2020, from https://www.epa.gov/report-environment/contaminated-land

Is Organic Really “Organic”?

As more people continue to consume organic foods, the industry has expanded to reach $50 billion in sales. This number accounts for 5.8% of total U.S. food sales in 2019, proving to be a small slice of the pie, but there are some issues within the industry that everyone might not agree with.  

The Organic Seal

One of the issues with the organic industry in the U.S. is the organic seal itself. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) oversees the National Organic Program (NOP), which enforces organic regulations. Some people may not be aware, but there are currently four levels of labeling:

1) 100% Organic: All the ingredients are certified organic and the USDA organic seal or the 100% organic claim may be presented.

2) Organic: At least 95% of the ingredients are certified organic and the USDA organic

seal or organic claim may be presented.

3) Made with organic ingredients: At least 70% of ingredients are certified organic but

the USDA organic seal cannot be displayed, and the product cannot be called organic.

Up to three ingredients or ingredient groups can be called organic.

4) Specific organic ingredients: Less than 70% of ingredients are certified organic and

cannot use the USDA organic seal or have the word “organic” on its main packaging.

Producers can only label the organic ingredients and the percentage.

This tiered labeling system is useful to determine the amount of certified organic ingredients in a product, but can catch those who weren’t aware of these different grades off-guard. Depending on the consumer, some may see that organic products are not truly “organic” because the USDA allows some pesticides to be used and that does not align with their view of “organic”. Certified organic in the U.S. does not necessarily mean that a farmer cannot use USDA approved substances on their fields. For this reason, there are some people who might not agree with the USDA. Therefore, it’s important for consumers to research about what they are eating because the best source of regulation is yourself.

Growing Without Soil

Traditionally, crops have been grown in soil but new methods of growing—such as aquaponics and hydroponics—are emerging and can also be certified organic. This is a controversial issue as some people believe that produce that have not been grown in soil should not be called organic due to its soilless condition. Soil is essential to organic farming because of its contribution to a sustainable system and healthy soil can lead to healthy plants.  At the same time, advocates for such a hydroponic approach state that farming like that helps to provide affordable organic food because it increases the supply and can contribute to healthy market competition. In urban areas where open land with healthy soil is not abundant, the manner of growing without soil is beneficial to feeding the community. This is especially true in densely populated areas.  

What It Means To Be “Organic

 Whether a product is really “organic” depends on your view of organic. Some people might say that farmers using synthetic pesticides—although some is allowed by the USDA—automatically excludes them from consideration while others believe it is all right. Likewise, the decision to be certified organic without the need to be grown in soil is still an ongoing debate and is challenged by a number of people who believe that organic cannot be “organic” without soil. Not everyone is going to agree on every single issue, but consumers should be able to trust in our organic system and believe that what they are eating is truly organic, at least according to the USDA. However, the definition of “organic” may vary from person to person.