I think that for me the place to begin is with the fact that in 1910 approximately 72% of the population of the United States lived in rural areas. Today this number is closer to 20%.
Half of that 72% (38% of total population) were recorded as having an occupation in agriculture. This estimate is likely low due to the miscounting or omission of certain agricultural workers based on gender, age, race/ethnicity and economic and social structures of farming families.
Simply put, a little over one hundred years ago a far greater proportion of the population was involved in producing some portion of their own food or lived in close proximity to a food producer. (not forgetting small gardens beside homes in both urban and rural areas i.e. Victory Gardens).
Since the end of WWII we have seen an increasing separation of the places where we live and the places where our food is produced. Vast tracts of productive agricultural lands were purchased, subdivided and strip-malled into the suburbs of today. Locally this has been the fate of communities with rich agricultural heritage such as Wheat Ridge (Wheat Ridge HS mascot is still the Farmers) Longmont and other communities in Colorado and in the Washington D.C region: Montgomery, Howard, Farifax and Prince Georges counties
“Across the country food retail had been gradually changing since the arrival of chain grocery stores prior to WWI and by chain super markets in the 1930’s. After WWII, supermarkets (both chain and independent) had come to dominate food retail. Driven by the entry of women into the workforce, a massive influx of new processed foods derived from subsidized commodities, supermarkets became more and more popular.” (From Industrial Garden to Food Dessert: Demarcated Devaluation in the Flatlands of Oakland, CA in Cultivating Justice. Pg 108)
These demographic and cultural shifts have meant the destruction of local control over where, what and how food is grown, produced, transported, accessed and eaten.
Urban Agriculture impacts diverse fields of life: health, education, economic development and urban planning.
The experience of growing food is correlated with its consumption; the more experience people have growing food, the more likely they are to eat it.
Urban gardening and farming involve city dwellers in healthy, active work and recreation.
Urban agriculture builds safer, more healthy and greener environments for neighborhoods, schools and abandoned areas.
Health: Cooking and nutrition classes have been demonstrated to positively affect food literacy and healthy eating
Social: based on my own involvement in building community based food systems here in Denver food systems education has a profound impact on youth development, education and leadership.
Social: urban farms and gardens provide opportunities for inter-generational knowledge exchange and programs which help to promote a model of aging that integrates elders into our communities rather than separating them.
Ecological: on farm practices such as rainwater harvesting, bee keeping and land remediation cultivate biodiversity and improved wildlife habitat, , improve the soil in urban environments and assist in storm water management.
We need food production in cities as well as peri-urban and rural areas, but if the goal is to develop reliable and equitable linkages with residential development we need to think in terms of community food systems.
In community food systems, neighborhood stakeholders are the ones growing and distributing the food. True sustainability means that disenfranchised people, especially youth and their families are not just the beneficiaries of "good food" but as central participants in planning, development and execution..
Cultivate Health is an innovative partnership between Regis University, Aria Denver, and a number of other community partners (highlight a few of the partners) that is that we are seeking support from multiple sources, which include: local and national foundations, donors, grant makers, and in-kind supporters (e.g. volunteers, students, etc.).
Aria Denver is a healthy living community currently under construction and is developed by Urban Ventures LLC and Perry Rose LLC for people who want to live more sustainably and be engaged with their neighborhood. It is built on the site of the former convent of the Sisters of St. Francis.
Aria’s 17.5 acres will promote healthy and active lifestyles not only for residents of the Aria community but for neighbors in longer established neighborhoods.
Roles: The role of Aria Denver’s developers is to oversee infrastructure and right of way improvements, to act as a liason between Cultivate Health partners, land for a 1 acre production garden and permaculture pocket gardens.
Urbiculture Community Farms is a multi-plot farm committed to providing food to all people of all income levels while sustainably growing affordable local food in the Denver area. Currently Urbiculture cultivates 32,300 square feet of garden space throughout Denver.
Roles: Urbiculture is taksed with Implementing and managing the Aria production garden and teaching community gardening classes, workshops in collaboration with the proposed Regis University Center for Urban Agriculture and Nutrition to provide skills and food system education for community residents and Regis University students
Regis University is a private, Jesuit university founded in 1877 here in Denver. Regis encourages values based education that helps students to become intelligent decision makers committed to investigating the larger question of “How Ought We To Live?”
Roles: Regis University is exploring the development of a Center for Urban Agriculture and Nutrition which will offer an interdisciplinary minor and major in urban agriculture, collaborate with Urbiculture Community farms on workshops and classes for students and community, work with students and neighborhood residents to design and implement permaculture “pocket gardens” throughout the Aria community.
Seed to Plate- advancing the goal of building a community based food system
Production and Distribution: Urbiculture currently maintains a vegetable and herb garden on the Aria Denver campus and during peak production will produce 80-100 lbs of organic produce a week.
The production gardens will be expanded over the next 3-4 years eventually reaching a full acre able to yield 13-15,000 lbs. of food annually.
A portion of the food from the production gardens will be sold to commercial accounts, a portion will be sold to residents at the bi-weekly pay as you can farmstand, a portion will be donated to Warren Village and other non-profits which serve marginalized people. We also have a proposal to reserve food from the production garden for a prescription food program which will be an aspect of the cultivate health wellness service.
Permaculture (Pocket) Gardens: These gardens will be the initial project developed and implemented by the Regis University Center for Urban Agriculture and Nutrition. Center consultants will work with students and community members to plan and implement the gardens which will be located throughout the Aria property. Pocket gardens will be designed to promote social cohesion while producing edible landscapes, to which members of the surrounding community will have access for harvest at no charge. Produce that is not consumed by neighbors will be sold at the bi-weekly farm stand, to other commercial accounts or donated. Residents in the communities including Regis will participate together to tend and nurture the plants, thus encouraging social collaboration as well as providing additional types of fresh food.
Urban Agriculture and Gardening education: a critical aspect of a community food system is that all members of the community be engaged in planning and implementation. Our community outreach strategy is to quickly engage community members in the work of producing food. Using the Aria Denver gardens as a locus of knowledge exchange we will host workshops on sustainable and organic gardening practices with the understanding that some community members use these time honored traditions, thus allowing workshops to become opportunities for exchange of knowledge among peers. Our education programs will utilize a train the trainer strategy focused on helping to develop community capacity to sustain access to healthy foods, produce opportunities for entrepreneurial endeavors and generate new advances in urban agricultural practices. So now we return to the question: How can we create more reliable and equitable linkages between healthy, sustainably grown foods and residential development?
Community Food System where all members of the community are viewed as having the potential to bring positive value to urban food production, addressing issues of production and consumption, community members are not simply recipients of “good food” but become actors who are essential to the sustainability and regeneration of local, organic community based food systems over time. The types of activities and education that will take place in the Aria gardens impact community health, ecosystem health and social cohesion, lastly it is the community scale nature of the effort that will help to build community resilience with regards to food.
In this partnership, Aria Denver transcends the typical understanding of housing development and moves us toward a model of urban infill and new development that bring a different type of value to older established communities that have been historically marginalized.