In the metropolis, where cement almost devours the fertile land, millions of children grow up without seeing how a tomato sprouts on the plant, a new trend emerges that brings a ray of hope to millions of families, many of them Latinos.
In the United States, 80 percent of the population lives in urban areas and millions do not have adequate access to nutritious foods such as vegetables and fruits. The consequences are devastating: obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
As a ray of hope, we see a gradual change thanks to urban agriculture. It is an alternative in the struggle for inclusion, justice and social equity that is changing mentalities and systems through innovative methods such as: community gardens, rooftop farms, farms in cellars, vertical production, backyard farms, hydroponics, and all kinds of gardens located within the populated urban areas.
The reasons urban farmers plant are as diverse as they are. Some do it motivated by curiosity and pride in producing their own food. Others have ambitious goals they want to combat, such as fighting food insecurity, alleviating poverty, taking care of the environment, giving children the opportunity to get in touch with nature, starting their own businesses, just to mention some of them. One way to keep this practice alive is teaching children that in agriculture there are professional opportunities.
The UC Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (SAREP), part of the University of California's división of Agriculture and Natural Resources, presented a series of six workshops supporting small farmers who have been historically marginalized from training and funding opportunities.
Chanowk Yisrael, a successful urban and African American farmer who adopted for his family farm the motto “Transforming the neighborhood into something good,” showed up at one of the workshops and shared his experiences.
Having no experience and despite living in an area where summers are brutally hot, one day he told his wife, “Let's start a farm."
She replied, “You know we live in an urban area. "
The first plants withered. "No one starts a garden in July," Yisrael said, adding that those who live in cities know little about the cycles of nature. So, he participated in community farming workshops and eventually the land rewarded him for his perseverance with 110 pounds of a variety of foods such as cabbage, cantaloupe, tomatoes, pumpkins and cucumbers.
"It was a magical day," Yisrael said. Then, it involved the children; they all began to cultivate, harvest, cook and eat as a family. "We saw that producing food extends beyond just eating," said Yisrael, "and with just a few plants in the backyard, our vision has grown to show communities that there is opportunity in the earth."
The Yisrael urban farm is currently a family business that promotes agriculture among children and teens.
"We work more with children because most young people in cities have no idea of the career path they can follow and this happens when you grow up in areas disconnected from agriculture," says the farmer, who also wants to change the bad reputation of his neighborhood "We want the neighborhood to be a place where there is more than poverty and crime," he said proudly.
Yisrael had his personal fight against agriculture because of the oppression his ancestors suffered, but now he knows that farming is also a tool for equity and social justice.
He and his wife bought land in Amador County and are engaging in political activity to raise their voice and remove regulations that hinder their project. His first achievement was obtaining a permit to be able to sell the fruits and vegetables they did not consume and he later joined with other small farmers.
In 2017, California passed the Farmer Equity Act of 2017 to break down barriers that prevent people of color from gaining access to technical assistance and financial aid. The California Farmer Justice Collaborative was also formed with a mission is to establish a fair food system.
How to get started?
The UC Small Farm Program provides marketing and management resources and tools to small farms.
California FarmLink serves the communities of the North, Central Coast of California and the Central Valley with access to loan lists and listings of available land. Microloans - USDA's Farm Service Agency (FSA) - has resources including small loans that may be appropriate for some urban farmers.
Did you know?
SAREP is offering a series of seminars in English in support of sustainable agriculture, diversity and equity. To learn more visit:
- Farm Workers are Farmers – Introduces the importance of farmworkers in California and suggests ideas for how Cooperative Extension professionals can support workers to achieve the sustainability of agriculture.
- Racial Equity and Service to Farmers of Color – Provides information and training opportunities to farmers and ranchers of color who have historically been neglected by extension institutions.
- Urban Agriculture – Learn more through this video about the opportunities and challenges of 13 urban farmers in California.