On Tuesday, the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C. hosted a panel discussion on Urban Agriculture as part of the museum’s ongoing series, For The Greener Good: Conversations That Will Change the World. 

urban-garden.jpgPanelists included moderator Allison Arieff, Editor-at-Large, Sunset Magazine and New York Times Contributor; Steven Cohen, Food Policy and Programs Manager, City of Portland Office of Sustainability; Liz Falk, Director and co-Founder, Washington DC-based Common Good City Farm; and Josh Viertel, President, Slow Food USA.

The average

grocery store vegetable travels 1,500 miles from farm to plate.  All panelists agreed that urban gardening policies need to be changed in order to create a more sustainable agricultural system within our city limits.  “It’s a matter of connecting the dots between restaurants, chefs, schools, businesses, citizens, children, city officials, etc.” said Falk.

Josh Viertel stressed the benefits of urban agriculture, including public health benefits such as an increase in healthy food consumption and a decrease in diabetes, accessible and affordable produce, community involvement, cutting down on city carbon emissions, the greening of buildings, cleaner air, and more.

One of the biggest challenges Urban Agriculture faces is creating a successful business model where farmers make livable wages and city produce is affordable for everyone. 

Urban farmers are encouraged by the recent appointment of Dr. Elisabeth Hagen to the Under Secretary of Food Safety post at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).  Panelists said that Dr. Hagen’s strong support for vertical farming will lead to new policies and programs that encourage diverse involvement and conceive affordable produce in cities across the country.

Cohen noted the increase in backyard gardens from 36 million to 46 million last year as a tremendous step in the right direction. Moderator Arieff said today is an opportune time to expand the urban agricultural movement with programs such as Edible Estates and Common Good City Farm.  These programs promote urban gardening while supporting more sustainable living practices.

The talk concluded with panelists urging audience members to push city, state and federal legislators to make policies which enable safe, affordable, and sustainable urban agriculture programs for the future. 

  • Polices that will actively encourage the growth of urban agricultural enterprises are needed and must be a priority of municipal and all other levels of government.

  • Both urban and rural agricultural enterprises need to market to the public every day. All people need to be able to understand what it takes to produce a gallon of milk or a head of lettuce. All agricultural enterprises need to work year round and figure out new ways and new products to accomplish this. Vermont farmers markets are just recently offering winter markets, usually once a month through the winter.

  • Just wanted to make sure you saw this opinion-editorial I co-wrote with Urban Harvest for yesterdays Omaha World-Herald about urban and vertical gardening in the heart of Africa’s large slum Kibera in Nairobi, Kenya. Here is the link, post to our blog at the Worldwatch Institute called “Nourishing the Planet”: http://blogs.worldwatch.org/nourishingtheplanet/omaha-world-herald-kenyan-farmers-persevere-despite-cultivation-challenges/
    All the best, Danielle Nierenberg (www.borderjumpers.org)

  • I remember attending this discussion, and it was one of the motivating factors in my deciding to help out with the first-ever DC State Fair. If anyone wants to help (know anyone who’d sponsor us or buy a booth to come out?), let me know!
    Check out dcstatefair.wordpress.com