Local Food Rebuilds Small Town (And Inner-City) America


La Finquita Community Garden via Nuestras Raíces

Our uncertain times, both economic and environmental, have businesses, individuals and all levels of government scrambling for a positive way forward. On one end of the solution spectrum is the short-sighted U.S. financial bailout. On the other end are thousands of far-sighted individuals, community groups, neighborhoods, and towns, planting, growing, preserving, cooking, and eating food grown in their own (literal and figurative) backyards. All for the sake of self-sufficiency.

Towns and neighborhoods that have fallen on hard times - whether from the closing of the local mine or manufacturing plant or the long decline of neglected neighborhoods on the wrong side of the tracks or perhaps, say, a broken levee - are turning to simple agricultural acts as a cornerstone for rebuilding communities.

The Community Garden
In Holyoke, Massachusetts, the community group Nuestras Raíces is growing hope for local residents. The city is reputed to be one of the poorest in Massachusetts, with 50% of school age children living below the poverty line. Built as a planned industrial manufacturing town, the city's fortunes have declined as manufacturing moved overseas. But for residents, it's still home, and a large number of Puero Rican immigrants have landed here. Community organizers saw agriculture as a vehicle for change.

The Glynwood Center honored Nuestras Raíces as the recipient of the center's 2008 Wave of the Future Harvest Award.

Nuestras Raíces is a model approach to developing meaningful economic, cultural, and leadership opportunities in a small industrial city fallen on hard times. Started by the members of one urban community garden in 1992, Nuestras Raíces has grown to a network of community gardens through the city, secured thirty acres of prime farmland along the Connecticut River, organized farmer training and youth leadership programs, assisted in the creation of 25 food and agriculture businesses, community-led environmental and food policy councils and provided opportunities for hope, employment, healthy foods, and cultural celebrations in this Puerto Rican community. The scale, approach, and depth of Nuestras Raíces programs make it an exceptional example of a holistic approach to food systems and social change, by and for those most needing access to healthy foods and economic opportunities.

The Entrepreneurial Food System
The New York Times recently reported on the transformation of Hardwick, Vermont from a gritty former mining town in decline to an entrepreneurial hotbed based around food. The article, "Uniting Around Food to Save an Ailing Town", describes a town on the cusp of a boom.
With the fervor of Internet pioneers, young artisans and agricultural entrepreneurs are expanding aggressively, reaching out to investors and working together to create a collective strength never before seen in this seedbed of Yankee individualism.

Proving that the spin-offs from a local food systems are felt beyond a local lunch, the towns various food related enterprises have created 75 to 100 jobs for locals. And if their local food system continues to develop as it has thus far, Hardwick could be on the leading edge of a re-localization revolution.

Woody Tasch, chairman of Investors Circle, a nonprofit network of investors and foundations dedicated to sustainability, said: “What the Hardwick guys are doing is the first wave of what could be a major social transformation, the swinging back of the pendulum from industrialization and globalization."

Recovering From Disaster
The organization Replanting New Orleans is helping, well, replant New Orleans. The organization is committed to providing "trees and shrubs, healthy soil, and education outreach services to the residents of New Orleans at no cost." While the vegetation provided is not exclusively edible, a number of species are, including: Pear, Fig, Orange, Lemon, Lime, Satsuma, Kumquat, and Grapefruit trees.

via Nuestras Raíces
via The New York Times
via Replanting New Orleans

More On How Food Builds and Rebuilds Communities
Detroit Charity Turns Wasteland into Farms
Transition Town Plants Up Nut Trees for Food Security
Urban Agriculture Leader, Will Allen, Named MacArthur Genius

Tags: Agriculture | Farming | Local Food

Best of TreeHugger 2014

WHAT'S HOT ON FACEBOOK