Tag Archives: food

Urban farming: Lessons from Growing Power

IMG_5218.jpgJust a year ago, an article in Medium touted Will Allen as “the Godfather of Urban Farming, Who’s Breeding the Next Generation of People to Feed the World.” Allen, who started urban farming in Milwaukee in 1993, then moved on to Chicago, ended up with his Growing Power organization involved in urban farming projects around the world. Along the way, Allen won a MacArthur “genius” grant in 2008 and was named one of Time Magazine’s 2010 Time 100.

This article was first published on The Uptake, December 30, 2017 with support from the New Economy Coalition. This post is part of a News Day series on Re-Visioning Farming.

Allen’s vision, and his non-profit corporations, focused on reimagining and rebuilding a food system in cities. Among its ambitious projects:

  • aquaponic systems growing fish, watercress, and wheatgrass;
  • rebuilding soil through composting and vermiculture, including collection of supermarket wastes and use of red worm composting to turn them into soil;
  • increasing productivity with intensive cultivation of food plants on small plots of land;
  • sparking a passion for farming in urban youth and teaching them job skills to land jobs in the sustainable farming and food system;
  • growing mass quantities of high quality food and delivering it to people living in inner cities;
  • modeling urban farming as a real and sustainable option for people around the world.

Then, in November 2017, Growing Power crashed. After years of running deficits and with more than half a million dollars in legal judgments against the organization, Allen resigned and the organization closed its doors. Continue reading

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Immigrant farming dreams: the Hmong American Farmers Association

Yao Yang with disk

Working cooperatively, HAFA members can purchase farm implements that would be too expensive for individuals.

Hmong farmers make Minnesota a national leader in the local foods movement. Visit any Twin Cities farmers’ market, and their contributions are evident. Yet, too often, they struggle both for access to land and for a return on their investment and work.

For Pakou Hang’s family, farming is “part of our life, part of our blood in some ways.” From as early as she can remember, she grew up helping to grow food and to sell it in farmers’ markets.

Her life path led through farm fields and farmers’ markets to Yale and the University of Minnesota and years of community organizing and social and economic research. After years of experience in community organizing and financial research, she brought a critical analysis to the place of Hmong farmers in the food system and especially in farmers’ markets. Continue reading

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Re-visioning farming: HAFA, CSAs, Urban Farming, Farm Transitions

IMG_4294.jpgI grew up on a family farm of the kind that now exists mostly in myth and memory. In the early 1950s, we had dairy cows, placid Holstein giants who filed quietly into the barn each morning and night and lined up ready for milking at one end and eating at the other. Then came the Clean Milkhouse Act and the end of dairy on our farm. Sanitation is a good thing, no doubt about it, but my father couldn’t borrow the money needed to upgrade the milking facilities, so he switched over to beef.

Like the dairy cattle, the beef grazed in the pasture all summer long, drinking from the river that ran through it. I fixed fences and counted calves and checked the wooden fence posts in the lane for bluebird nests. Continue reading


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Stop feeding the kids


Photo by USDA, published under Creative Commons License. (20111025-FNS-RBN-School Lunch)

Six years ago Congress did something right. They said that high-poverty schools could skip the individual child-by-child means testing and just feed all the kids free breakfast and lunch. That saved hundreds of thousands of dollars previously spent on processing eligibility forms, as well as thousands of hours of teacher and parent time. More importantly, when everybody can eat for free, nobody has to feel singled out as “that poor kid getting a free lunch.” Free, in-school breakfasts increase the number of kids starting the day ready to learn. Now that the program is succeeding, Republicans in Congress want to roll it back.

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Amy Klobuchar moves to the DARK side on GMO labeling

Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar joined Republicans on the Senate Agriculture Committee last week to vote for the DARK Act — the Deny Americans the Right to Know Act. That’s the bill that would forbid state and local governments from requiring labeling foods containing GMOs. The bill, which still has to pass the full Senate, was described in a March 2 Star Tribune news article:

“The vote gave the food industry, including Minnesota-based companies such as Cargill, General Mills and Land O’Lakes, everything it wanted to derail state GMO labeling laws, especially a law set to take effect in Vermont in July.”

The bill adds insult to injury, by requiring “a taxpayer-funded public education campaign that explains scientific evidence of the benefits of ‘agricultural biotechnology.’” Continue reading


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Growing lettuce at ten below zero


Lettuce growing at St. John’s University, January 16, 2016

Local lettuce all winter? At St. John’s University and the College of St. Benedict, passive solar greenhouses grow lettuce for college food service, with farming and management by enthusiastic student volunteers. With a few dozen other folks, I visited both greenhouses on a subzero January Saturday, on the first of the Deep Winter Greenhouse Tours sponsored by the Sustainable Farming Association of Minnesota. Continue reading

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Soup, good behavior, and fruit picking: Three good news stories for Monday

“A  chef who once spent a year living under the Franklin Avenue bridge and a hard-charging minister” star in the Star Tribune’s good news story from Minneapolis today. They run the Soup for You Café at Bethany Lutheran Church, serving homemade soups with fresh, healthy ingredients to anyone who walks through the door. Church people volunteer. People who come for the delicious soup pay “whatever they feel is a fair price — or whatever they are able to.” Continue reading

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NEWS DAY | Essential reading: The McChrystal report / Grocery wars in Twin Cities / Police notes

800px-Marines_train_at_Tarnak_FarmsEssential reading: The McChrystal Report General Stanley McChrystal has delivered his initial assessment of the war in Afghanistan, and it is grim. McChrystal sets out an overall strategy of allied forces (ISAF) providing security to prop up the Afghan government (GIRoA) and security forces while they become stronger, more credible, less corrupt and capable of both supporting and protecting the population and winning the support of the population. But there’s no indication that the Afghan government or security forces are moving in that direction, and no reason given to believe that they will.

McChrystal advocates focusing on what is under ISAF control: a change of ISAF direction and practices, supported by greatly expanded military and civilian resources from the United States. It is clear that, even from a military perspective that accepts war as the answer, the increased resources McChrystal requests will not be enough to “win” Afghanistan. The crucial element — an Afghan government that is responsible to and supported by the people — is not achievable through U.S. military efforts. Excerpts from the document show the depth of the disaster-in-progress. Continue reading

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Farming by the numbers

Like numbers? The 2007 U.S. Agricultural Census has lots of fascinating numbers for anyone who farms or cares about the food system. You can go on-line to download or read everything– national numbers or a state-by-state breakdown. (Minnesota here.) Among the more interesting findings:

• Minnesota farm figures track national trends in most areas. Farm numbers increased nationally, but growth came mainly in the biggest and smallest operations. While Minnesota gained a few more farms, overall farm acreage in the state decreased by a little more than half a million acres.

• Big farms keep on growing. In MN, the number of farms with sales of more than half a million dollars went up by 2,801 farms. (The number of farms with less than $2500 in sales went up by 1,654).

• Nationally, the number of farms with sales greater than $500,000 increased by 46,000 from 2002 to 2007, while the total number of farms grew four percent to 2,204,792. That number is somewhat deceptive, as the greatest growth came in farms with sales of less than $1,000 — clearly hobby farms. (Remember that the sales figures are gross sales — a farm with $100,000 in sales has a profit margin that is far lower.) The number of farms in the $100,000 to $249,000 category shrank slightly, while all higher levels showed growth. Less than half of all farm operators said farming was their primary occupation.

• Family farm numbers declined in Minnesota. MN farms larger than 2,000 acres and those smaller than 180 acres increased in number, while the state lost about two thousand middle-sized farms. The number of MN farm operators identifying farming as their principal occupation dropped by about 20 percent, going from 50,808 to 39,628.

• Organic farms are a big growth sector. Even as the number of family farms in Minnesota continued to decline from 2002 to 2007, family-operated organic farms increased. MPR reports:

For the first time, the census of agriculture includes information on organic farms. According to the census, in 2007 there were 718 Minnesota farms producing organic crops. That’s a 66 percent gain from the best previous estimate, a 2005 state report. Jim Riddle runs an organic farm outreach program for the University of Minnesota and he said organic food should be a growth area for years to come.

“It’s still a supply and demand driven market and there’s just a very strong demand for organic products,” said Riddle.

Nationally, organic food sales have been growing at 15-20 percent per year until the recession hit, and even now continue to increase by about five percent per year.

• Nationally, farms with more than one million dollars in sales accounted for 59 percent of all agricultural production nationwide. In 2002, the million dollar farms accounted for only 47 percent of all ag sales.

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