At the Greater & Greener: Reimagining Parks for 21st Century Cities conference in New York City, Laura Lawson, ASLA, Professor and Chair of the Department of Landscape Architecture at Rutgers University, described how urban agriculture has experienced explosive growth in recent years. According to a survey produced by the American Community Gardening Association and Rutgers University, community gardens are now found in all 50 states. Some 445 organizations responded to the survey, listing a total of 9,030 gardens. Of these organizations, 90 percent have seen increased demand over the past five years. Also, some 39 percent of the gardens listed were built just in the past five years. These organizations have a variety of goals, including food production and access, social engagement, nutrition, education, and neighborhood revitalization.
Sarita Daftary then discussed her work as Project Director of East New York Farms. East New York is the easternmost neighborhood of Brooklyn. A community of 180,000 residents, East New York is underserved by fresh food markets. The East New York Farms program (see image above) seeks to engage the community through its 30 backyard gardens and 24 community gardens, employing 33 youth interns, 80 gardeners, and 100+ volunteers.
The program addresses neighborhood food access through its farmers markets, growing and selling a diversity of unusual foods that reflect the diversity of the neighborhood.
Ben Helphand, Executive Director of NeighborSpace, said his organization is the only non-profit urban land trust in Chicago, working to protect gardens on behalf of community groups. NeighborSpace collaborates with a variety of city and state organizations to secure land titles and provide basic liability insurance for community gardens.
Unlike East New York Farms, NeighborSpace is not oriented around food security: Out of NeighborSpace’s 81 gardens, roughly 1/3 are ornamental, 1/3 are food gardens, and 1/3 are an ornamental/vegetable hybrid. Some of these gardens have become spaces for public art.
Maitreyi Roy, Senior Vice President for Programs and Planning at the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, described her organization’s City Harvest program. Due to severe budget cutbacks, the Philadelphia prison system has an abundance of unused greenhouses, land, and water. City Harvest utilizes these facilities to grow seedlings for community gardeners. The program also works with local community gardeners, expanding access to gardening supplies, nutritional education, and fresh food.
The tension between for-profit urban farming and community-driven initiatives was a recurring theme throughout the discussion. After all, simply growing food in a neighborhood doesn’t necessarily expand the neighborhood’s access to healthy food. For example, for-profit operations often sell their produce to high-end restaurants located outside of their communities. Organizations will need to continue to address these complicated social and economic issues as urban agriculture spreads.
This guest post is by Benjamin Wellington, Student ASLA, master’s of landscape architecture candidate, Louisiana State University, and ASLA 2012 summer intern.
Image credits: (1-2) East New York Farms, (3-4) Britni Day, (5) Pennsylvania Horticultural Society Online