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Blog Action Day 2011: Food

October 16, 2011

Today is Blog Action Day! Bloggers in over 80 countries are writing posts today about food, so I thought I’d take a brief look at urban food systems and some local resources relevant to DC.

Sustainable agriculture is of course not only good for human health, but also for biodiversity. And since biodiversity in rural areas is closely linked to biodiversity in urban areas (think migratory songbird populations doing better in shade-grown coffee plantations than in conventional plantations – many of those songbirds will have layovers in urban areas on their annual migrations), there is a direct link between healthy urban ecosystems and sustainable agriculture.

Another important aspect of sustainable agriculture is the move towards embracing local agriculture as

Oakhurst Community Garden, Atlanta, Georgia, (c) Daniel Lobo

opposed to large-scale corporate agricultural practices, where an apple might be flown half-way across the world before it ends up in your grocery store. Fewer so-called “food miles” means less fuel is needed to ship the food from field to table, which decreases your food’s contribution to climate change. And eating local has the added benefit of supporting your community’s economy.

Some are embracing the potential for very-local food production in the form of high-rise farms in urban areas. The hope is that not only would this cut down on food miles, but in an ideal world it would also let us return some cropland to a more natural state, which would benefit wildlife populations. Conservation Magazine has a great article on this concept here.

Eating local (and organic or IPM) is easier now than it’s ever been. Many grocery stores now label foods that are locally produced, and farmer’s markets are sprouting up all over the place (please excuse the pun!). Community-sponsored agriculture is also big news, where community members buy shares of farmer’s products before they are grown; CSA members generally get back produce on a weekly or biweekly basis throughout the growing season.

There are also other interesting companies that support healthy agriculture. Here in DC, we have Washington’s Green Grocers, a company that drops boxes of produce and other goodies off to customers on a week-to-week basis (you order for the weeks you want and skip those you don’t). The produce is sourced as local as possible, although they also sell bananas, citrus, and other products that can’t be grown in the DC area. In addition, they have a pantry section full of local dairy and meat options, locally-made jams, preserves, and pickles, baked goods – even “bean to bar” chocolate! Recently, they’ve also added Daisy Flour  products, a Pennsylvania mill that uses grains grown from New York to Virginia – in other words, about as local as you can get (they also have an interesting heritage wheat project).

The other way to eat locally is to grow your own. Whether in your backyard, in a community garden, or even growing a few pots of herbs on your windowsill, growing something (anything) is a great way to take back some control over your food and become a producer instead of only a consumer. The “urban homestead” movement has really taken off in recent years; one of my favorite blogs devoted to this subject is Root Simple (formerly known as Homegrown Evolution). The owners of the blog, Kelly Coyne and Erik Knutzen, have also written two great books (Making It and The Urban Homestead), which I highly recommend.

A final Washington, DC-based resource is Common Good City Farm, a farm on V St. NW between 2nd and 4th Streets, which aims to “grow food, educate, and help low-income DC community members meet their food needs.” They also seek to “is to serve as a replicable model of a community-based urban food system.” They have a strong volunteer program, a great series of workshops on everything from eating well to preserving food to planting for rainwater conservation, and also a great school program. If you live in the DC area (or even if you don’t), I highly recommend checking them out!

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