This Holy Season is not the appropriate time to dwell on bad news. So let us forget for a bit about the rapid expansion of GM crops and the arbitrary decisions of the FDA against small farmers and let us focus on news that will make our hearts sing. Two items have especially grabbed my attention, that I’d love to share with you today.
On the world stage, first, I was happy to learn that the United Nations acknowledges, supports and promotes urban organic horticulture as a vital strategy to combat malnutrition, disease and poverty in cities–where, as we know, more than half of the world population lives today. The UN’s primary focus are developing countries.
According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), 130 million urban residents in Africa and 230 million in Latin America engage in agriculture, mainly horticulture, to provide food for their families and/or earn an income. These are people who typically escaped their rural communities with the hope of making a better living in the city. In fact, they resort to doing what they know: growing crops. The main issue is that they do so precariously, exploiting idle land from which they can get kicked out at any moment.
“It is urgent to mainstream urban and peri-urban horticulture, and to recognize its role as a motor in food security and nutrition strategies,” Modibo Traore, FAO assistant director general, told an international symposium in Dakar organized earlier this month by FAO and the Senegalese government.
The symposium gathered two hundred people from 39 countries to talk about building an international network to promote and implement urban horticulture, incorporating the practice into urban planning, and developing alternatives to pesticides. Neveen Metwally, a researcher at the Central Laboratory for Agriculture Climate in Cairo, Egypt, indicated for instance that the numerous benefits of rooftop gardens are well-documented in the Egyptian capital: not only do they provide low-cost food and often also a source of revenue, but they also decrease air pollution, absorb heat and act as insulators (reducing the energy needed for cooling or heating).
Although this movement won’t transform the world’s urban centers overnight, it’s definitely worth staying tuned–at the very least.
Closer to home, in California, people receiving federal nutrition assistance are encouraged to shop at farmers’ markets thanks to the efforts of the California Farmers’ Market Consortium project. A healthy alternative for consumers who typically favor cheap bargains, as well as a bonus for farmers.
In 2009, less than 0.01 percent of food stamps (now known as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP) was redeemed at farmers’ markets in 2009, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, although one-fourth of the nation’s 6,000 or so farmers’ markets accept them. The major challenge, obviously, is cost.
Enter the California Farmers’ Market Consortium project, an initiative created last year by Roots of Change with $1 million dollars in Specialty Crop Block Grant funding from the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA). Here is how it works: Roots of Change uses matching philanthropic dollars to provide “top up” matching money of 50 or 100 percent (depending on the market) to increase buying power. Bonus vouchers are given to recipients of nutrition assistance when they shop at participating farmers’ markets to purchase fresh produce. These include seniors and recipients of SNAP, as well as WIC clients (a supplemental nutrition program for Women, Infants and Children).
About 850 farmers who sell their crops in 48 farmers’ markets in eight counties currently benefit from the extra sales. The Consortium is working hard at expanding its network of partners across the State.
Here’s to acknowledging the commitment and dedicated efforts of all the “food” soldiers who are determined to making our world a better place through the transformation of our relationship to food and farming.