Food Talk: Why Regionalism Matters

Sustainability. Resilient agriculture. Social justice. Environmentalism. Do you know what these words mean? These are some of them describe our agricultural system. And they contribute to the complexities of food systems and food policy. Some words are jargon, politically correct, or used to widen the gap between small rural farmers and urban farmers. I discussed some of these concepts in my dissertation on urban farming and urban agriculture.

I wrote it for a very narrow audience of my colleagues. But in the real world, I rarely use these words. One reason is that each word has a different meaning to different people. It depends on what you do (small farm or agribusiness), where you live (rural or urban), and your farming practices (agrobiodiversity or monocropping). For example, I used to think that “sustainability” was the best way to describe good farming practices. That was until I learned that sustainability has over 100 definitions.

It’s hard to rely on a word with such flexibility. You have to keep explaining it in context: environmental sustainability, agricultural sustainability, social sustainability, or economic sustainability. I’ve moved on to more precise words, the topic of this week’s blog. Here’s an interesting word: regionalism. It’s an expression, custom or feature of a specific area. What’s the problem with regionalism? How does it translate in the world of food policy reform? What’s the best way to talk to stakeholders in rural and urban communities?

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Growing Power: In Foreclosure

Growing Power was a nonprofit that changed the face of urban agriculture. Growing food in the city was the heart of the organization. Volunteers, students, and funders flocked to support its mission to rebuild urban food systems. Founder Will Allen started Growing Power (GP) in 1993 in Milwaukee. In time, GP expanded to Chicago and was a model for urban farming worldwide. Allen won the $500,000 MacArthur “genius” grant in 2008. He was named  the “Godfather of urban farming.” But in December 2017, Growing Power was dissolved. What happened? Did GP grow too fast? Was it understaffed or mismanaged? Were GP’s funding sources and partnerships out of line with its mission?

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Big Data: Urban Agriculture’s Future?

One of the biggest challenges in studying urban agriculture is to figure out its long-term value. Urban agriculture (UBA) is evolving and filled with uncertainties, inequities and hidden problems. For example, some people think UBA is the solution to feeding 9 billion people by 2050. But others think that UBA favors politics (votes from wealthy communities) and economic growth (job creation in impoverished areas). How can we understand the risks and rewards of UBA? Is urban agriculture a viable food source for the future?

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What’s Next? An Urban Ag Update

When I started my dissertation on urban agriculture, I learned about the different ways that a city can grow food. Urban agriculture is growing, processing and distributing food in the city. It also is a link between agriculture and urban development – housing, commercial and business development, schools. Urban agriculture is also about food production and urban planning. It includes the suburbs and fringe areas near the city. Urban agriculture means growing food in containers, window sills, backyards, rooftops, freight containers, farms and community gardens. In 2018, I wonder how urban agriculture is evolving and if it can be a stable food source for the future. Below is a snapshot of urban agriculture today...

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Willie Nelson and Urban-Rural Ag

Poverty is a worldwide problem. Urban and rural communities in every country struggle to survive. Poverty means food insecurity or economic and social conditions where people have little or uncertain access to enough food. Food insecurity hits people in urban, rural, and peri-urban areas (communities located around cities). While it’s easy to think that food insecurity is just an urban problem, clearly it is not. Hunger is not in a vacuum. Even if food is abundant, many people don’t have enough food on a regular basis. How can we feed more people? What are the connections between urban-rural agriculture?

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Practicing Your Craft

One of my takeaways from graduate school was that we learned to be scholar-practitioners. Dr. Patti and I continue to transition into our new roles: to conduct research and write as scholars. But the practitioner part is not an easy transition. This part requires an active, conscious effort to apply new knowledge to practice your craft.

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