Monday, October 21, 2013

Urban Farming

by Christian Glatz

            The definition for Urban Farming is the practice of cultivating, processing, and distributing food in or around a village, town, or city. The real value for Urban Farming is a community coming together, selecting a location (usually an abandoned lot) and turning it into a location where each person can cultivate produce, eat it and trade it with fellow members.                      
            The main idea behind growing your own produce is the ability to consume it while it still holds all its nutrients. The Harvard Medical School Center for Health and the Global Environment notes that food transported long distances is not likely to be as nutritious as food grown and consumed locally.                                 Living in urban areas, such as New York City, makes it nearly impossible for you to grow your own produce. You have to become very creative and resourceful if you want to become a farmer in a city where 80% is covered by concrete and the other belongs to the parks department, cemeteries, and private parks.
            One of these resourceful people is Silvia Torres; she is the Urban Farm Manager at Kingsborough Community College. Silvia was one of the speakers at the New York Regional Phi Theta Kappa conference which took place at Kingsborough Community College. Silvia explained to us the impact these urban farms have on the community. She also explained how they have been able to implement these farming spots where abandoned terrain used to be.    The process requires a lot of effort, the people willing to put time into growing their own produce have to clean up these abandoned lots. Some places used to be houses that were burnt to the ground in order to collect insurance money, and once the owners received the money they disappeared. The produce is not grown right on that ground due to contamination and other factors. Instead, raised beds of soil are built and arranged in ways which allow people to grow what they please; usually a variety of produce is grown so they can trade with other members. Spaces on these raised beds are allocated to each member of the community who is involved in the process of building the farm.                With this in mind, Silvia Torres and others with similar interests have implemented urban farms within the Kingsborough Community College grounds. The measure of their success was the amount of produce students purchased at the farmer’s market event at the school. Students have become conscientious about healthy, organic foods, and are aware that the produce they bought at the event was picked off the farm minutes before the purchase.                                          
               These farms foster more than just food. They encourage camaraderie, fellowship and a sense of pride. The pride comes from taking a land which attracted rodents, insects and lower real estate prices and turning it into a healthy source of food, a beautified community and increasing the property value.   
                Also, another point Silvia Torres discussed is the appropriation of land by the city government. Once these turned around properties become attractive to developers, the city seizes the property and sells it. Silvia reported that during Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s term the city seized over 70% of these farms and sold the land to developers which constructed buildings on those locations.
                She went on to explain that the city could have sold many other abandoned lots. However, due to the urban farms, the property value increased, turning the locations into prime real estate. The urban farming association has taken the time to conduct extensive research which concluded that the production of produce in what is equivalent to one acre of land amounted to nearly $250,000 a year (if it were to be sold, but is used as barter in the community). The anger amongst these urban farmers is understandable but at the same time one has to think of the legality of this issue.
                 Think of it in this manner, you have a backyard that you do not use nor maintain for couple of years, so your neighbor decides to build a tool shack on your property without your consent. Your neighbor thinks since you don’t use it, you lose it. Yet, you still pay taxes according to the size of your property, so before you lose your land due to “squatting” laws, you kick him out and regain possession of your terrain. This is exactly why the city takes over the land, these urban farmers are SQUATTING. Not only that, but they shoot themselves in the foot by saying that they could have paid over $250,000 to local groceries and farmers if they had to buy their produce, therefore the city loses $22,500 in what would have been taxes from those sales.
               The urban farms are without a doubt beneficial to the community directly involved with their construction and maintenance. My family would buy fresh produce from urban farms if available, knowing that we could eat a healthy and organic product which has not lost its nutrients would be worth it.  Before deciding to build on an abandoned lot, the community should buy the land from the city when it’s worthless, that way they don’t see their hard work go to waste.

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