Twin Cities group plans for urban agriculture future

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Gardening Matters, an independent organization dedicated to community gardeners, convened a meeting of 65 people on October 10 at the McKnight Foundation in Minneapolis to plan for the future of urban agriculture in the Twin Cities.

“Dr. Branden Born was asked to help us strategize a vision for sustainable urban agriculture here in Minnesota,” said Nadja Berneche, program director for Gardening Matters.  Dr. Born, assistant professor of Urban Design and Planning from the University of Washington, had co-founded Seattle-King County’s Acting Food Policy Council in May of 2006.   

“Our first meeting in April focused on land access and tenure,” said Berneche.  “Gardeners have been coming to us wanting long term land sustainability as they developed their soil and communities.”  October’s meeting began to develop a framework for organizing issues around urban agriculture and a food network.

Seattle is similar to the Twin Cities in terms of geographic area, sprawl, high land values and a large division of the haves/have-nots (disparity of household incomes), according to Kirsten Saylor, executive director of Gardening Matters.  Dr. Born reported that Seattle’s city proper has 500,000 people with a large out state population, a complex system of regional and municipal governmental structures, and issues of poverty and racial isolation. Health disparities exist between Seattle’s proper and outlying suburbs and counties.

According to a report of the Acting Food Policy Council of Seattle-King County, the region experiences epidemic levels of overweight and obese children and adults.  Washington has the tenth-highest rate of hunger in the nation.  The problems of hunger and obesity often coexist in the same households.  Food waste accounts for about 20 percent of King County’s solid waste stream. And farmers are under continual threat with development and global competition.

In 2004 Seattle-King County had a forum on “Growing a Regional Food Economy.”  The forum attracted 50 food stakeholders.  They wanted a food policy council, farm to cafeteria programs, improved farmers’ markets, new infrastructure for farm processing, and create a regional food identity.  Out of this grew the Food Policy Council.

The council convenes meetings but also researches and develops policies and makes recommendations for programs to help decision-makers in Seattle-King County.  The FPC is a bridge between city, county, and state governments for a comprehensive and coordinated approach to food policy. 

Graduate students from the University of Washington did a study on public transit and access to healthy food in local grocery stores to assist the council.  Now the council is developing a series of papers for government officials and the general public on food access, transportation, climate change and the federal farm bill.

Interested parties at the meeting were students from the University Of Minnesota, individual gardeners, farmers, food organization and county/city health departments.  Nearly half of the attendees came from Minneapolis and others were from St. Paul, Prior Lake, New Hope, Fridley, Golden Valley, Arden Hills, Eagan, and Robbinsdale.  A few of the organization were Sky High Harvest Rooftop Farm, Land Stewardship Project, Giving Tree Gardens, City of Lakes Community Land Trust, and Alliance for Sustainability.

This October’s meeting addressed questions of how to organize themselves? A few of the questions were: Do we want to be a non-profit, a coalition, or a council?  What region do we want to cover?  Just metro-wide, metro and nearby areas or statewide?  How are we going to be sustainable?  What steps of strategies can we take? Tentative date for their next meeting will be set in December.

For further information contact Nadja Berneche, program director at Gardening Matters, nadja.gardenmatters@gmail.com.