While waiting for the food policy conference coming up next Thursday and Friday, here are some links to read and listen to, to get you into the mood.
The Express-News SA Life section today features an article on Herff Farm's sustainable "inspiration" garden next to the Cibolo Nature Center in Boerne. Tracy Hobson Lehmann writes about the Nature Center's project to demonstrate a variety of sustainable practices for our climate. These include organic soil-building, growing with compost and mulch, keyhole gardens, drip irrigation, and nontoxic pest control methods.
Also on Saturday, "The Splendid Table," airing on Texas Public Radio, featured an interview with Will Allen about the founding of Growing Power, and his book The Good Food Revolution. Find it here.
I've written a couple of (fairly) recentposts about Chicago's attempts to codify urban agriculture. The outgoing Daley administration was proposing rules supposedly to recognize UA as a desirable activity and land use, yet strangling it with requirements for fencing, parking, and size limits that would have made some of the city's most vibrant urban farms illegal. With the prospect of a new mayor in sight, these rules still were very concerning, and thankfully were postponed.
Here is the latest: news coverage of Mayor Emanuel's press conference on his proposals, which were worked out with the full participation of the UA community and not just the zoning department.
Read the whole article. Meanwhile, here are a couple of good quotes:
"Erika Allen, head of seven nonprofit Growing Power farms in Chicago, predicted at the time that her group's work 'would be over' if the zoning ordinance passed.
"But Tuesday morning, Emanuel chose Allen's new Iron Street Farm in Bridgeport to present his proposed ordinance — one that marks a turnaround on almost every thorny issue in the last proposal.
"'We've been working really hard to see this happen,' said Allen, who served on the mayor's transition team. 'I think it's just a new administration and a changing of the guard. Former Mayor (Richard) Daley was supportive, but there was a lot of opposition coming out of (the zoning department) that was very much entrenched in "this is the way it we do it.'"
"'This shows a vision that the most needy neighborhoods can be the key to revitalizing our city by cleaning up spaces, providing jobs and growing good food,' said Ken Dunn, a critic of the previously proposed ordinance."
Today I heard Erika Allen, head of Growing Power Chicago and president of the Chicago Food Policy Advisory Council, give an update on that city's recent attempt to regulate urban agriculture. Briefly, the proposed ordinance began as an effort to recognize UA as a legal land use in Chicago, and it would do that. But why would it also do these other things?
Rather than creating a new zoning category for UA, the proposed ordinance would put UA in the "construction, sales and services" category.
The size limits (~.4 acre for CGs and ~.5 acre for urban farms) would have prevented several of the most successful projects in Chicago from forming.
Community gardens would not be permitted in industrial or commercial areas.
Commercial urban farms, including nonprofits, would not be permitted in residential areas (90% of Chicago's vacant land is in residential areas, so no economic development there from food projects).
Food waste and other materials couldn't be brought in for composting on the site.
Greenhouses could fall into a restrictive definition of "accessory buildings"
Parking requirements would reduce the usable land on a site, even if ample street parking is available. Asphalt paving is specified, although the city elsewhere is promoting permeable ground treatments.
Fencing would not be required, but if a fence is erected, it must be "architectural." (So vacant land surrounded by chain link could not be beautified with gardens?)
Produce from an urban farm could not be sold in open-air or under tents, only in an enclosed building.
Street frontage would have to be screened (preventing beautification, community engagement and education)
This is not urban agriculture that anyone in the good food movement would recognize, and rather than promote UA's benefits, it would prevent many of them. Allen has been agitating against its passage, and it was withdrawn from the city council agenda earlier this year. Apart from the strange and restrictive provisions, she objects to the lack of a public process.
In contrast, she says that in Milwaukee (home base of Growing Power), "you can grow food anywhere in the city."
Rahm Emanuel will be sworn in next month as mayor of Chicago. Many expect him to bring a more enlightened and comprehensive approach to addressing the city's food deserts. He is also said to be linking food production to economic development, environmental, and public space initiatives.
In the meantime, Allen is not letting down her guard on the proposed ordinance. She says the thing Chicago is seeking to promote/regulate is not like other businesses that could require tight controls: "Food is a human right."
Obama Foodorama reported today on Chicago mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel's food policy agenda for the city. Into an urban center already working at improving access to healthy food, he brings added emphasis to Michelle Obama's "Let's Move!" agenda for improving public health through better nutrition and increased physical activity. His program lays out a 360-degree view of the problems and solutions for an urban food system.
"To improve food access & affordability, the Mayor-Elect pledges 'a renaissance in local food production & distribution' with new policies and incentives for urban agriculture, grocery markets, food trucks..." Read the whole ObFo post. It brings up a variety of approaches to address food deserts, economic development, health, and community building.
As I reported a few weeks ago, Chicago has had (a) groundbreaking (so to speak) urban agriculture programs (including a branch of Growing Power headed by Erika Allen, daughter of Will), and (b) City proposals that didn't seem to appreciate the assets they were about to squelch. It will be exciting to see the energy that Emanuel can bring, with the broad understanding he seems to have for improving the food system.
Meanwhile, San Antonio also is a partner in "Let's Move!" through the Mayor's Fitness Council and other initiatives. Many of Emanuel's proposals, like making Chicago bike friendly, echo current programs of Mayor Julian Castro. It would be doubly exciting if we could partner with Chicago, leverage the food-system initiatives in our own ways, and move ahead even faster.
One of the best things about the food policy movement is being able to connect with other communities, so that the wheel is not reinvented everywhere. We can adopt and adapt, because while every place is unique, we all face similar challenges in reclaiming our food systems.
As promised, here is my report from TOFGA's 2011 Texas Conference On Organic Production Systems (TCOOPS). It was held Friday-Sunday, January 28-30, at the Killeen Convention Center.
There were pre-conference farm tours, which I didn't attend this time, sorry! During the conference, there were producer sessions on pastured poultry, grass-fed beef, organic vegetables, insurance and other business matters. And much more.
Len Trevino of Metro Health, a founder of the SA Food Policy Council, spoke on a panel about Food Justice. He talked about the difficulty of undoing cultural changes in food choices among people who have chosen to assimilate into the unhealthy American diet. He also talked about the positive example of our City Manager pulling junk food out of vending machines in City buildings, and new rules that food purchased by the City and Bexar County must come from within 150 miles.
CFSC (the Community Food Security Coalition) held a Farm Bill listening session, a late addition to the program that was squeezed in between the afternoon session and the evening event. Between 30 and 40 people attended to give their input, fortified by non-chain pizza ordered in by the presenters. All the input was forwarded on to CFSC's Washington, DC policy office to be combined with that of other sessions being held around the country. The top 3 issues that TCOOPS attendees wanted to see supported in the next Farm Bill are: support for local food infrastructure, "stop the nutty loopholes," and support for new and transitioning farmers.
Friday evening's event was a screening of the movie "FRESH." This independent film was produced in 2009, and has become a phenomenon of local distribution and activism. While it lays out the same problems with our food system as Food Inc., its stories and solutions take center stage, with lengthy and inspiring segments on Milwaukee urban farmer Will Allen, and Joel Salatin of Polyface Farms in Virginia.
The vendor area had booths offering organic fertilizers and soil amendments, literature from Oregon Tilth, ATTRA, and other sources, chickens scratching on trays of sprouts (demo of an innovative growing system), organic treats, and more.
Topics on Saturday and Sunday included more on production and marketing, also soil fertility, compost production, pending legislation and advocacy, web-based tools for farm stores, rules on agricultural valuation of land, international topics, and the problems facing bee populations.
At lunchtime on Saturday were the regional meetings. San Antonio is in Region 2, along with Austin, and a committee of six or seven people stepped up to take leadership on increasing outreach and communication. If you would like to be involved, too, send an email from the About page.
On Saturday evening, there was a banquet of locally produced foods deliciously prepared by Amanda Love, the Barefoot Cook. Each dish was labeled with the ingredients and the farms who provided them. The Keynote speaker was Ana Sofia Joanes (at left), the producer of FRESH. She spoke engagingly about her challenges in making and distributing the film, and about her encounters with the farmers and others she had filmed.
The final session, at midday Sunday, was a business meeting. There were a couple of low-key elections, then board members spoke about last year's accomplishments, and priorities for the year ahead. Each region offered their own goals for 2011. Farm tours are high on the agenda for all the regions, to help bring producers and consumers together. Another topic of interest is new-farmer training. Watch this space!
I am just back from another TCOOPS (the Texas Conference On Organic Production Systems, hosted by the Texas Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association) annual meeting. Lots to write about there. Later. Meanwhile, here is a link to what I posted about last year's conference.
Before I get to the 2011 conference, here are some of the things I had every intention of writing about this month, but didn't get to. (Caveat, if I'd captured the info as I went along, there would be more factual references. As it is, I'm mostly winging it.)
From Chicago, there was a lot of discussion about a proposed ordinance that would have (a) recognized urban agriculture as a legal land use, and (b) created regulations contradicting some of its best pioneering operations and their practices. Here is a pretty thorough analysis of that.
While it's nice, I guess, that the City of Chicago wants to recognize UA's value, the proposed ordinance had some nutty provisions, like no off-site compost materials. Where is the stuff supposed to come from? Urban farms are a great place for recycling food waste from all sorts of establishments (green), and wood chips from brush removal and landscaping (brown). Green + brown + time = new dirt!
Another problem was a size restriction smaller than some existing farms, including some Growing Power operations. So those would be grandfathered, maybe? Great, but what about others that could be equally worthy in the future? What problem is the City trying to solve, exactly? If you are going to take up the issue at all, why take a restrictive stance? That's why we have to pay attention, and give knowledgeable and factual input when these things are brewing.
And apparently, enough people did. The Chicago Food Policy Advisory Council sent out an email on the 26th, the day before this was to have been voted on, that it is "deferred until further notice." They will be busy playing catch-up and educating their public officials. Developing the vision they want, fingers crossed. You can't tell your good stories often enough, to enough people.
On the federal front, it was a huge disappointment to sustainable agriculture last week when Secretary Vilsack approved the planting of GE alfalfa, in contradiction to a massive public outcry and recent court decisions upholding objections to the proliferation of GMO crops. The new buzzword, hatched by the industry seeking to profit from flooding agriculture with GMO crops, is "coexistence." There are huge discussions going on about what to do next. I know it is not over. (GE=genetically engineered, GMO=genetically modified organisms. Mainly to tolerate the use of the herbicide Roundup. GE pollen can contaminate organic fields, for starters.)
Local food entrepreneur
In local news, there was a very nice Express-News article by Jennifer McInnis, about a St. Philip's graduate starting a food truck business after cooking for his grandmother's senior center and for other ailing relatives. Worth a read, if you missed it!
Food Policy Council
Finally, the San Antonio Food Policy Council had its fourth meeting this month. We heard a presentation from UTSA demographers about data for a community food assessment, and heard about an Austin food assessment. We also formed committees that will focus on areas like membership, policy research, and governance. You can comment here if you have input or questions for the council.
I know there was more. If I think of it, and it's still timely, I'll get it down.
Coming soon--TCOOPS report, including a Farm Bill listening session, Len Trevino of the SAFPC rocking a Food Justice panel, and opportunities to get involved in our TOFGA region's activities.
Texas Food Policy Roundtable A broadly based group of Texas leaders who develop, coordinate and improve the implementation of food policy to address hunger and promote equitable, sustainable and healthy food in Texas.
Texas Organic Farmers & Gardeners Association "Promoting organic agriculture as a sustainable systems approach in the production of food and fiber – a system that protects human and animal health, and preserves the environment."