Here are some highlights from day two of the Urban Food Systems Symposium hosted by K-State Olathe June 22-25, 2016. Check out Part 1 for more information about the symposium and highlights from the first day of presentations.
The morning began with invited speaker Nancy Creamer. Nancy is the director of the Center for Environmental Farming Systems (CEFS) and a distinguished professor of sustainable and community-based food systems at North Carolina State University. I worked with Nancy in my previous Extension role, but I learned more about CEFS and their breadth of projects from her presentation than I did the entire time I worked in NC.
In her presentation, Building a Local Food Economy in North Carolina, Nancy described the development of a statewide action plan, From Farm to Fork: A Guide to Building North Carolina’s Sustainable Local Food Economy, designed to involve and engage stakeholders.
As with many states, NC had numerous producers and consumers interested in local foods, but they were missing the critical processing piece to get the raw product to consumers.
Nancy described conferences that were organized to grow interest in local foods, creation of Firsthand Foods, and the NC 10% Campaign where individuals and businesses can pledge to spend 10% of their food dollars on local products. These programs were a lot of work and now stand as models for what can be accomplished in other states. One practice that Nancy shared that can (and, in my opinion, should) be adopted across the country is to designate an Extension Agent in each county to act as a local foods champion, posting local food events on the county Extension webpage, serving as a liaison between producers and the land-grant university, and pledging to serve local foods at Extension events.
Nancy also talked about development of a statewide food policy council. Numerous community food policy councils had popped up across NC and the statewide council could unify and magnify their efforts. Several resources for food policy councils were developed through this process and are available at https://communityfoodstrategies.com/.
Nancy concluded with a list of things we can do to support local foods in our states:
- Develop and action plan
- Establish a state food policy council
- Support and network local food councils
- Support statewide food assessment
- Establish procurement goals
- Support local food infrastructure
- Support business development
- Support Farm-to-School
- Work to improve access to healthy foods
- Grow more farmers
- Support urban farms and gardens
- Support farmland preservation
- Support Cooperative Extension
- Remove barriers and level the playing field
This presentation was full of so many great examples and suggestions. I encourage you to view the complete set of Nancy’s slides for more information.
Sarah Taylor Lovell
Next we heard from Sarah Taylor Lovell who teaches sustainable landscape design at the University of Illinois (read about the work of her Multifunctional Landscape Analysis and Design lab at http://www.multifunctionallandscape.com/). Her presentation was titled Planning Urban Spaces for Sustainable Food Production and dealt with the multifunctionality of urban landscapes. Urban agriculture offers us more than just food production; it would be hard to make a case for urban agriculture based on food production alone with development pressures and land being at a premium.
Instead, we should consider landscape multifunctionality which offers a framework for planning urban spaces and includes cultural and ecological functions of landscapes as well as what we tend to think of as urban agriculture (including production of food, fiber, flowers, and livestock).
- Rather than bringing in materials and creating/exporting waste (open system), is a closed system the urban ideal? Is it realistic?
- When considering a landscape’s multifunctionality, we need to include the site-specific context and needs of users. In rural areas, the primary user is the landowner, while in urban areas the primary user is the community and neighbors.
- Rather than keeping agriculture and conservation separate, we should integrate them (land sparing vs land sharing).
- Map marginal and underutilized land.
- Recognize the extent of potential contamination.
- Map public fruit trees for gleaning.
- For public spaces, integrate edible landscaping alternatives.
- Integrate floral plantings to attract beneficial insects (biological control agents).
- Consider dedicated community orchards (not just community gardens).
- Add value and reduce risk for urban farmers with infrastructure.
- Improve visual quality as viewed from outside. A creative design encourages public education.
- Control flow onto as well as off of the site (during stormwater events, for example).
- Respect and reflect cultural heritage.
Overall, we need to shift our mindset in the United States to acknowledge that urban food production is an asset, not a liability, and take advantage of all the production, ecological, and cultural functions it offers.
If this topic interests you, read Sarah’s article Multifunctional Urban Agriculture for Sustainable Land Use Planning in the United States.
The rest of the afternoon was spent attending short oral presentations to hear about urban food system research and extension programs from across the country. (The slides for the following presentations have not been posted yet so you’re stuck with what I captured on my iPhone. I’ll swap them out as soon as I can.)
Katherine Kelly, Developing New Farmers at Cultivate Kansas City
- Bulk purchasing of supplies helps keep costs down, encourages farmers to work together (share equipment, coop sales together, swap services and equipment/supplies, grow transplants for each other, etc.)
- When a participant is accepted into the Juniper Gardens Training Farm they receive a 4-year lease on a quarter acre of land, get a farm sales number, are required to take 20 workshops, save 30% of their income to cover sales tax, and begin to capitalize their income to build their business so at the end of the four years they have the skills and experience to start their own urban farm.
Jacqueline Kowalski, The Kinsman Farm: A Case Study of an Urban Incubator Farm
- It is important to address zoning to allow for urban ag production
- Established a land use and planning working group to come up with a plan for how to handle vacant lots, address concerns with land tenure and site insurance
- Requirements to lease a plot at the Kinsman Farm include paying $250 per year, completing the Market Gardener training program, giving a business plan presentation, and being interviewed by the land committee. In return, market gardeners receive access to land, water, tools. For more information, check out Jacqueline’s slides from an Information Session on the Kinsman Farm Application Process.
- Extension’s role in the farm: site management, coop development, technical support, business development support
- Recommendations: consider institutional capacity, consider long-term commitment, think carefully through long-term partnerships, make expectations clear from the beginning, everything in writing
Brien Darby, Creating the Feeding Communities Project, and Urban Agriculture Training Program Designed for the Colorado Front Range
Brien shared information about urban food initiatives at the Denver Botanic Gardens. They offer an urban farming course and have a training manual titled Feeding Communities: A Handbook for the Urban Farmer that would be a great resource for your bookshelf.
Eleni Pliakoni, Increasing Access to Local Food by Extending Shelf Life of Fresh Vegetables
Eleni described a project focused on tomatoes and spinach grown in a high tunnel vs open field. Results show that use of high tunnels reduced preharvest produce losses and increases marketability.
She also showed that a 10% ethanol wash reduced rot decay of tomatoes and that modified atmosphere packaging (MAP) can extend shelf life at 13°C (non-ideal storage conditions).
Finally, Eleni shared results from a study of day-neutral strawberry production in high tunnels, with and without evaporative cooling. The variety that produced the greatest total and marketable yield was Portola, followed by Evie 2 and Seascape, but consumers preferred Monterey and Albion. Seascape and Albion do not perform as well post-harvest.
Ariel Agenbroad, Mobile Farmers’ Market Pilot Project Brings Everyone to the Table
Ariel gave a great presentation about the mobile farmers’ market in Boise, Idaho.
Best practices if you want to try this in your community (what they learned in year one and implemented by year two of the project):
- Make sure mobile market can accept SNAP benefits
- Use Extension interns to help staff market and offer food prep demos outside
- Include a stop at a retirement community (SNAP recipients, lack convenient transportation to regular market) and stop at Extension Office (may require special permit for sales at a county site)
- Consider small, ready-to-eat items
- Stock produce the demographic will eat
Candice Shoemaker, Evaluating the Local Food System of Manhattan, Kansas: Producer and Institution Perspectives
We have a lot of work to do to get greater local food sales to institutions like schools and hospitals. It is useful to learn about the perspectives of those institutions and local producers so we can come up with solutions. This kind of research is a great example of the role land-grant universities and the Cooperative Extension Service can play in helping local food producers reach these markets.
For more information on this study, check out the MS thesis of Angela Anegon titled Evaluating the Local Food System of Manhattan, Kansas: Producer and Institution Perspectives.
Colleen Synk, Gathering Baltimore’s Bounty: Characterizations of Urban Foraging Behaviors, Motivations and Barriers
I attended another presentation about this project on Day 1 of the symposium, but Colleen’s talk was more about how the data was collected (using an iPad which logged GPS coordinates of where foraging was occurring) and about the motivations and barriers reported by urban foragers.
- Urban foraging is a way to embrace a sense of place
- Urban foraging is culturally relevant (more common in ethnic cultures) – who’s teaching them plant identification, risks?
- Social network pathways will be useful when sharing the study results with foragers
- Many parks across the country prohibit foraging (what can we do to change this?)
- Foraging may help combat invasive species
- People tend to forage items not available at market, not able to survive storage, so they’re not competing with producers
These were just the sessions I attended. For the full conference schedule and presenters’ slides, visit the Urban Food Systems Symposium website at http://www.urbanfoodsystemssymposium.org/.
Wayne Roberts was the symposium banquet speaker with a presentation titled How Food Strategy Creates Cities Most Likely to Succeed. I’ve followed Wayne on social media for a while and was excited to hear him speak in-person.
- Use food as a platform for introducing other subjects (i.e. teaching people about a foreign culture)
- There are three personality types that dominate the food movement: warriors, workers, and weavers
- Consider the quadruple bottom line of urban agriculture: food production, employable skills (communication, socialability), health, and reduced transportation costs for food
- Cities can be a harbor for pollinators who may find rural areas too hostile
- If food waste was a country, it would be the third largest contributor to global warming after China and the United States
- Preventing food waste reduces cost
- The United States could do more to learn from urban agriculture in other countries around the world (e.g. Toronto food programs from Brazil)
- Farmers’ markets help us develop a relationship-based food system and may help reduce salt and sugar consumption because people are eating fresh, whole foods
- Community ownership of public space housing community gardens and farmers’ markets leads to cleaner cities
- Gardens are a great place for working parents to spend quality time with their kids
- Gardening is an anti-isolation device (isolation is as bad for your health as smoking 1.5 packs of cigarettes per day)
- Food is a tool that can save people from being wasted (Wayne shared an example of a program that gets juvenile delinquents involved in community gardening and teaching production/handling/processing to kids)
- By cleaning up vacant lots and providing an opportunity for food production instead, groups effectively compete with gangs for youth
And the final take-away I have from Wayne’s talk is that though everything we heard over the last two days sounds great, we as practitioners shouldn’t just come into a neighborhood with a set agenda. It’s important to work with the community to identify their issues and what they want to do about them. It’s better to work with someone who needs and wants help rather than try to push our “great” ideas on them.
I sat at a table of college students who kept up a lively conversation that was entertaining as well (you wouldn’t believe what they asked me about my home state of Oregon). And the meal of local foods was amazing. Did I mention the entire menu included local foods? Symposium organizers set a very high standard for future events (each meal contributed $14.78 to local farmers).