"You give them something to eat" – Jesus of Nazareth
Thursday, July 13
According to a recent UN study, over 800,000 people worldwide participate in urban agriculture, that is to say nearly 1 in 8 people on earth live in a city and are growing some kind of food for themselves and or others. However, in Buffalo, until earlier this year it was actually illegal to be growing food for sale in the city limits. The enactment of the Buffalo Green Code, the first update in our city’s zoning code in over 60 years, finally resolved that. While this policy is a giant leap forward, there is still much progress to be made to have urban food production be as prevalent as it is in other parts of the world. Next Tuesday (7/18) at 2pm the urban growers of Buffalo and the Buffalo-Erie County Food Policy Council are meeting with the Common Council at City Hall to discuss taking further steps to promote urban food production in Buffalo, and we are looking for supporters to join us at this meeting.
In cities in the developing world food is grown in pots on the sidewalks, in scraps of undeveloped land, in and around parks, and really any place it can be, just as a matter survival. In Europe where the squeeze of population density has long confronted farmers, market gardeners have been intensively cultivating land in and around urban centers for centuries. In tropical regions of Central and South America, Africa, and Asia fruit trees like guava and mango are grown regularly as street trees. Even in densely populated cities like Shanghai, up to 85% of their produce is grown within the city limits. In Asia and Africa the average farm size is less than 3 acres, while in America the average farm is over 350 acres. It’s only in our country of superhighways and cheap oil that food production has become separated from our urban centers.
However, Buffalo’s West Side, with its influx of immigrant and refugee residents, has seen a whole micro-economy emerge based on the backyard growing and selling of ethnic specialty crops. Throughout Buffalo, the seven farms of the Farmer Pirates Cooperative are working together to compost, order supplies, and even market some of their produce together. These urban farms and market gardens represent a new type of urban green space that actively benefits the community by providing healthy foods to under-served markets, creating jobs, and serving as cultural centers that educate and unite communities. They improve soil and air quality, divert waste from landfills, and pilot the green roofs, storm water retention systems, and alternative energy sources that are the future of sustainable infrastructure in our cities.
Our hope is to see more and more communities engaged in growing their own food, and want to see new policies enacted that help address the issues facing urban growers. Some of these issues include, land access, water access, city taxes and fees, and animal husbandry.
Food Policy Councils in cities across the country have proven to be a key tool in getting local governments to support food production on all levels, but especially in cities. Pittsburgh has an animal husbandry ordinance that allows for the keeping of goats, bees, chickens and other foul, along with rabbits and even pigs. Cleveland has a program that gives urban farmers easy, affordable access to city water through hydrants or other means. Baltimore has a tax credit program that reduces the tax burden on urban farms because they actually reduce water runoff in the city sewer system and the amount of waste they city has to haul off to landfills. Having urban farmers, like us at 5 Loaves Farm, youth from the Massachusetts Avenue Project, and others from Farmer Pirates farms, serving on the Buffalo-Erie County Food Policy Council has helped bring similar issues to the attention of local policy makers.
So we are looking for supporters to come join us and let the Council know that this issue is important to Buffalo residents, and to call on them to take action and work on specific policies that will address these issues. For anyone interested in attending the meeting, it is in Common Council chambers (City Hall 13th floor) at 2pm on Tuesday, July 18. Please feel free to contact us if you plan on attending or have any questions or comments.