Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Vegetable Patch

The idea of merging nonprofit community service with providing local food supplies has a long history in cities. Even as cities urbanized, some programs have taken advantage of "discarded space" to grow fresh vegetables as well as manage a distribution network of food banks from local businesses. The well-known Urban Ecology organization started out as a vegetable patch, incorporating local food, changes in lifestyle to reduce dependence on the automobile, all the way to their "Blueprint for a Sustainable Bay Area" in 1996.

Many cities have established community gardens for this purpose, mainly to create neighborhoods in urban areas that are cared for by residents. Seattle has its P-Patch program and Vancouver has recently started up a Green City program that provides fresh foods from local farmers and provides them to low-income residents.

These kinds of programs are the classic people-planet-profit strategies of microfinance that create productive enterprises and provide food security that are familiar the world over. It's the antithesis of corporate farming that produces food with tremendous amounts of pesticides and fertilizers, and ships this food over long distances which creates a pollution source, all of these being oil-based practices. Acting locally with the help of nonprofits and with the assistance of local city programs is a very efficient methodology that reduces food waste, preserves open space and reinforces community. This social web is a surprising answer to the often overwhelming difficulties of living in dense urban areas, especially as the economic safety net deteriorates.

When you have people sharing their recipes as well as their stories and their food, living in the city suddenly turns out to be a great place to be.