A farm doesn’t have to be a “distant rural place with an older white guy wearing a straw hat.” In this Nourish video, eco-chef, food justice activist and cookbook author Byrant Terry discusses the rise of urban farming and its importance in building healthy communities, engaging young people, and bringing fresh homegrown food to cities.
In this related Nourish interview, Ian Marvy, founder of the nonprofit organization Added Value, shares the many rewards that farming brings to urban communities. To name a few, urban farms enable city dwellers to eat better food, develop new skills, and serve residents in need.
What challenges for urban communities face in accessing fresh food?
Ian Marvy: There are some unique environmental challenges in food deserts. In low-income communities and communities far from transportation, grocery stores are often not sited. In communities like Red Hook in Brooklyn, New York, where I live, folks have limited options. They may need to get their produce from the local corner store or travel outside of the community to access a supermarket. That can be difficult for the elderly, as it can be expensive to use a cab, or it can take a lot of time to take a bus.
It’s important for individuals in vulnerable communities to have access to healthy, safe, and affordable food, as it is for all people. What we’re trying to do at Added Value, and what a lot of us are trying to do nationally, is figure out creative ways to bring food into these communities by partnering with the city, the state, and farmers, and by growing food right here in the community.
What benefits do urban farms offer?
Ian Marvy: The value of an urban farm is multifaceted. An urban farm is a catalytic space. It’s a space of growth. A two-year-old might be given the opportunity to play outside, touch soil, and meet a worm for the first time. A senior citizen or an immigrant might have a meaningful connection to the land and food of their past. An urban farm can be a place where they grow those foods, pass on knowledge, and reconnect to their family roots.
We’ve found that work on the farm provides people with a meaningful activity. They come here, they plant the seed, and through their hard work with their peers, they have a product. Whether they are five-year-olds growing salad to eat, or seventeen-year-olds growing heirloom tomatoes to sell, there’s a concrete result. That’s a huge reward for people in our society.
We generate a lot of activity here. This year we expect to sell maybe $25,000 worth of produce off of this 2.75-acre farm. That value is not just cash; it’s also nutrient value. With the lack of access to healthy, safe, and affordable food in a lot of communities, urban farms can supplement people’s diets. In some countries, urban farms contribute as much as 25 percent of the nutrient load for a city.
Why is it important for city dwellers to connect with their food?
Ian Marvy: A meaningful connection to your food can provide all sorts of rewards. It can provide enjoyment in the kitchen, and an opportunity to educate yourself, your family, and your friends about healthy eating and cooking. Connection to locally grown food has a significant impact on folks’ health and well-being. It can also get you out in the countryside to see where farmers are living and growing food. Those are meaningful human interactions in our globalized world.