Cities Expanding Fresh Food Access in Leaps and Bounds

14 Nov 2011

written by Elissa Vallano

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Union Square Greenmarket. Courtesy Mike Lieberman/flickr

One of the many advantages to living in a city is the abundance of readily available dining options all in close proximity. Chinese food for lunch? Absolutely. Brazilian for dinner? No problem. But there was one food choice that eluded urbanites over the years – local meat and produce. Thanks to a widespread culinary movement in cities across the nation, fresh food has now become more readily available through farmers markets, urban gardening and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA).

According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), there were 7,175 farmers markets operating throughout the US by mid-2011 – that’s a 17 percent increase from 2010. And through its database, it’s easy to find a nearby market. For example, New York City has 25 within a five-mile radius, Los Angeles has 51 in a 10-mile radius, and Chicago has 75 within a 20-mile radius.

New York City’s Greenmarket, part of GrowNYC, has been extremely influential in promoting regional agriculture and bringing fresh, local food to the New York masses. It is the largest and most diverse outdoor urban farmers market network in the country with 53 markets comprised of more than 230 participating family farms and fishermen. The movement has also protected 30,000 acres of farmland from development – a major issue caused by urban sprawl.

American Farmland Trust

According to the American Farmland Trust, an astounding 91% of our fruit and 78% of our vegetables are produced in urban-influenced areas. Unfortunately, that excessive demand can wreak havoc on farmlands. American Farmland Trust also reports that from 1982 to 2007, the US population grew by 30 percent, and during that same time period, developed land increased 57 percent. Urbanites have attempted to counter these negative impacts and encourage sustainability by growing their own food in gardens.

Community gardens are an instrumental component to First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move initiative, which is designed to “raise a healthier generation of kids.” One tool through the American Community Gardening Association (ACGA) helps you find community gardens in your city, which are especially abundant in urban areas. New York City has 778 registered community gardens, followed by Boston (233), Columbus (130), Denver (86), Houston (55), Fort Worth (47), Chicago (46), Dallas (44), Atlanta (33), Detroit (31), Baltimore (27), San Francisco (23), Philadelphia (23), Los Angeles (22), Portland (21), San Jose (17), Jacksonville (14), Milwaukee (12), Seattle (11), and Nashville (11).

As for individuals growing their own rooftop gardens in cities across the US, that is a figure harder to tally. However, Urban Farming is just one organization helping residents create and maintain residential and community gardens in their city. When it began in 2005, Urban Farming only had three gardens to its name, and six years later, there are 43,000. You can find a garden near you here. Treehugger also offers tips on how to get your urban garden going, and its sister site Planet Green shows you 66 things you can grow at home without a garden.

Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is another popular reason fresh food access has increased in urban areas. Through a CSA, consumers can buy local, seasonal food directly from a farmer. The business arrangement is a win-win for farmers and customers, which accounts for the USDA’s tally of over 12,549 CSA-participating farms in the US. Another added benefit – many CSAs are comprised of organic meat and produce, which has proven to be better for our health and economy.

USDA Organic Farm Map

According to the USDA’s 2008 Organic Production Survey (PDF), there are 14,540 organic farms and ranches in the United States that comprise 4.1 million acres of land. Of those farms, nearly 20% are in California – 2,714 to be exact. Wisconsin tallied 1,222 organic farms and ranches, followed by Washington (887), New York (827), Oregon (657), Pennsylvania (586), Minnesota (550), Ohio (547), Iowa (518) and Vermont (467). Best of all, organic farms boasted $3.16 billion in total sales ($1.94 billion for crops and $1.22 billion for livestock, poultry and their products) and averaged $217,675 in annual sales. According to the 2007 Census of Agriculture, the average sales for U.S. farms was $134,807 overall.

To learn more about fresh food access in your city, check out the USDA’s Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food program.

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About the author

Elissa Vallano is a contributing writer to MyCityWay.

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