Human hands. Earth. Seeds. Water. Sunlight.
It’s an ancient and powerful combination, the result being healthful food, a sense of peace, connection with nature and the seasons. That connection is something that more people are rediscovering each year as the urban farming movement gains momentum.
Whether because they want organic produce from a source they can trust — themselves — or because they find that the rhythms of gardening, from the first greens of early spring to the last ripe tomato, soothe the urban soul — people are growing their own fruits and vegetables in record numbers, and not just in Boulder County or the United States. From the favelas of cities like São Paulo in Brazil to the rooftops of Big City Europa, people are finding that urban farming not only puts food on the tables of poor inner-city families, curbing hunger, but also that it restores people’s sense of dignity by fostering self-reliance in an age of mechanized and digitized dependence.
And these urban farmers, many of whom are learning the art of farming as they go, are having an impact.
In São Paulo, Wake Up World reports, some 4,000 poor are now receiving fresh fruits and vegetables thanks to the work of roughly 700 urban farmers. In Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, urban farming has become an important source of income for the urban poor. In many African nations, women are operating community gardens or backyard plots, and fruits of their labor not only improve their families’ food intake, but also improve their status in their communities.
Closer to home, the advent of the backyard beekeeper and the boom in urban gardens in Colorado is helping in a small way to support pollination, given the plunge in bee populations caused by habitat loss and the overuse of pesticides.
What’s especially exciting about the urban farming movement here in the United States is that it is a movement by the people, for the people. The gardens you see scattered across backyards throughout Boulder County aren’t the result of a federal push for “victory gardens” or a county public health crusade, but rather an expression of individual human beings from all walks of life and political backgrounds who want to improve their health, their lives and the health of the environment.
And yet government can play a role in facilitating the growth of gardens and agricultural practices, such as beekeeping, that are beneficial to both the human population and to the environment.
Boulder City Council demonstrated how a government can benefit a people’s movement like this one Tuesday, Aug. 7, when it voted to amend its land use code to allow community gardens in all zone districts around the city. This opens the door for the creation of more community gardens, such as those run by Growing Gardens, a local nonprofit that manages several gardens around Boulder.
City Council did this thoughtfully by amending the ordinance to include standards for community gardens — such as banning the use of fresh manure — designed to prevent complaints from neighbors and limit potential conflicts.
There are other steps local governments could take, including: strictly limiting the use of pesticides and herbicides near bee hives, community gardens and backyard gardens; establishing the growing of fruits and vegetables in one’s yard as a by-right use that takes precedence over the rules of homeowner associations (HOAs); and establishing community gardens and urban farming as part of the city’s “brand” or identity, in order to attract philanthropy, as well as residents and businesses that value urban farming.
From that point on, government need only step aside.
Certainly, Boulder has a vibrant organic farming community, with community-support agriculture (CSA), a thriving farmers’ market, and organic locally sourced food at restaurants and grocery stores. It’s important to support those businesses, too.
But growing one’s own food is a key piece in the bigger food picture. It is the first rung on the food localization ladder, just as “reduce” is the first step in the recycling trifecta of “reduce, reuse, recycle.”
Kudos to Boulder City Council for recognizing that fact and enabling community gardens to grow.
Go to www.growinggardens.org to learn more about Growing Gardens.
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