Case Studies for City Composting

The cities that I have chosen as my case studies are Madison, WI, Salem, OR, and Waynesboro, VA.

Madison started its pilot composting program, called the Organics Collection Program, in June 2011 and has plans to expand its program in the next several years.

Photo courtesy of John Hart from Slate Journal

Photo courtesy of John Hart from Slate Journal

 

Currently, this program collects a portion of the city’s organic waste (even pet waste) to be converted into biogas and compost. Total, organic waste accounts for 35-40% of all of the waste in Madison’s landfill and a full landfill is actually the main reason that Madison has begun this pilot compost collection program. The city is already on the last two out of eight cells in the landfill and creating a new landfill can take between five and ten years. This composting program will have the benefit not only of putting organic waste to productive use, but also of expanding the life of the landfill and reducing the harmful methane gas produced in the landfill. Currently, the organic material collected in the program is sent to an anaerobic digester which is used to produce methane gas to generate electricity. What is produced after the waste is sent through the biogas facility is sent to a composting facility and the finished compost is used by a landscaping company or sold to other customers. Currently there are 550 households and six businesses in the program, but there are plans to add more participants this year, construct an anaerobic digester in 2016 and expand the program citywide by 2017. There are many benefits to the way Madison is conducting its program. The city is not only providing curbside pickup for the participants, but the city furnished those households with both outside and inside bins for compost collection. This makes it easier on the citizens who are participating in the program for a simpler transition to dividing organic waste from other waste.

Photo courtesy of Carolyn Fath

Photo courtesy of Carolyn Fath

In addition, the combined use of the organic waste to produce both biogas and compost is incredibly productive and has benefits even beyond just the food system. Also beneficial is the fact that the program takes all manner of organic waste, including even feminine hygiene products and pet waste. Some challenges the city may face as it moves to expand are the ability of the facilities to handle the volume of organic waste produced (although the construction of the city’s own digester should aid this), the use of the finished compost (maybe a new city ordinance for more gardens/urban farms?), and the integration of the university. Madison is a college town and convincing student houses to participate in the composting program may prove to be a challenge.

Although Portland, OR is often touted as one of the greenest cities in the state and country, a different city actually began a citywide curbside compost program a year before Portland. Salem, OR, a city in Marion County, started its curbside compost program in July 2010 when a nearby composting facility began accepting food waste. Their program picks up yard waste and food waste (meat, produce and other scraps) but is not as all-inclusive as Madison’s program. The waste here is sent to the Pacific Region Composting facility owned by Republic Services and the finished compost is sold to customers. Unfortunately, there won’t be a study conducted on the sheer amount of waste diverted from landfills until later this year. One benefit is that the program does service the entire city, but specific numbers about benefits won’t be known until later. There are two main challenges that Salem faces with its composting program. The first is that the number of trash pickups have stayed the same (weekly) despite the addition of the curbside composting program, which may give citizens a reason to not compost as much they should. In contrast, Portland decreased its trash pickup frequency to every other week once it introduced its composting program. The second challenge is similar to Madison in finding productive uses for its compost. In order to promote a robust and sustainable community food system, the compost should be used in local farms or gardens to produce food for the city.

The final city I will be using as a case study is one that is close to home: Waynesboro, VA. This case study is in many ways a great comparison to Charlottesville. Their pilot program is still very much in its infancy; it began in the fall of 2013. The city’s Rotary Club and Public Works Department came together to purchase composting bins (GEOBINs, specifically) to distribute to interested residents.

Photo courtesy of Tara Todd

Photo courtesy of Tara Todd

Since the program has recently begun, there are not yet specific metrics to demonstrate a calculable benefit but the ultimate goal of the program is to generate interest for a future citywide composting program. This case study is particularly interesting to me because a similar program may make sense for Charlottesville wherein individual composting bins are first distributed to gauge interest in a city program. Additionally, Waynesboro is a small town, like Charlottesville, and is geographically very close, so it shares many of the same resources. The Waynesboro program has been so successful thus far that there is a waiting list for the composting bins and 273 have already been given out. On average, 35% of waste in a landfill is compostable, which would mean significant benefits for the city both in waste reduction and compost production. The goal of the city is to have 20% of the city participating in the program within five years. The program as is has benefits for home gardeners, who can the use the compost they produce, and has benefits for schools as well, because the program includes a focus on compost education in schools. A challenge to this program will be in determining whether it will be expanded to a citywide curbside compost pickup program or a citywide compost bin distribution program, and then enforcing the use of the distributed bins. It will be very interesting to see how the program moves forward and what implications it has for a similar program here in Charlottesville.

 

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Case Studies for Grocery Gleaning (Love Jonson)

Gleaning fresh onions at the Alameda County Food Bank near San Francisco, California.

Gleaning fresh onions at the Alameda County Food Bank near San Francisco, California.

Charlottesville, like all cities across America, faces the dual problem of excess food waste and hungry populations. Fresh produce, the most important part of a nutritious diet, is often the hardest to come by at food banks and other anti-hunger organizations. Luckily, food gleaning operations in New York City and Portland have had success in recovering food from local grocers, and they can spark some ideas for innovative produce gleaning here in Charlottesville. While these two cities are indeed larger than ours, these organizations represent grassroots efforts at food recovery that can be implemented just as easily, if not more easily, in a smaller city like Charlottesville.

An organization called City Harvest seeks to meet the enormous need of the food-insecure in New York City, a population that numbers around two million people. It gleans 46 million pounds of foods from grocers, restaurants, and other venues, which it delivers to over 500 food programs in New York City. City Harvest gleans from grocery stores of all sizes, from national chains like Whole Foods to much smaller outfits. Brooklyn-based Union Market has four locations in Brooklyn and Manhattan, and Zabar’s is an independent grocer that has grown iconic in the Upper West Side. Among tens of other grocers, City Harvest recovers surplus food from Eataly, an independent grocery store-restaurant combination established several years ago by famed chef Mario Batali. A full-service grocery store known for its high-quality fresh produce, authentic Italian ingredients, and prepared foods, Eataly donated over 407,000 pounds of food from its single location between 2010 and 2012. City Harvest has proved that gleaning produce from grocery stores of all sizes is possible.

Eataly, an Italian grocery store and eatery in the Flatiron District of New York City.

Eataly, an Italian grocery store and eatery in the Flatiron District of New York City.

Surplus high-end produce like these tomatoes from Eataly gets gleaned by City Harvest in New York City.

Surplus high-end produce like these tomatoes from Eataly gets gleaned by City Harvest in New York City.

Portland, Oregon is home to strong grassroots efforts at community food gleaning for the hungry, according to Suzanne Savell of Neighborhood Notes. Portland grocers, restaurants, and farmers markets produce 200,000 pounds of food waste a year. With a population of just over 600,000, that’s 663 pounds of food per person per year! The Oregon Food bank recovers produce and perishables from grocery stores and other food distributors, preventing part of that waste from ending up in the landfill. They work with a variety of local organizations to accomplish the mighty task.

Urban Gleaners provides one example of an organization that successfully gleans from Portland grocery stores. A small nonprofit funded partially by the sales from a small-batch granola company, the band of Urban Gleaners workers picks up edibles from grocery stores, farmers markets, and events and channels them to the food bank and other local anti-hunger agencies. One of the grocers they work with is New Seasons Market, a small group of grocery stores with twelve Oregon locations. New Seasons Market collaborates with Urban Gleaners to donate their excess produce, much of which comes from their Home Grown campaign to spotlight locally grown products procured in Oregon, Washington, and northern California.

Urban Gleaners faces some challenges as a small grassroots organization. The greatest puzzle comes not in securing donations, but in figuring out how to distribute food efficiently before it spoils. Delivery logistics with a small staff and sometimes hefty quantities of food can prove difficult. However, the organization finds itself perfectly positioned to fill gaps that larger anti-hunger organizations cannot. Despite their smaller staff, they are on the whole able to more easily handle the logistics of storing and delivering donations. Because they simply run on a smaller scale, they can find refrigerators for their fresh donations and enough workers and employees to carry through with deliveries. In addition, Urban Gleaners is not held to the stricter standards for fresh produce donations that some larger organizations must follow, like the national network of Feeding America food banks. Finally, Urban Gleaners is fully aware of the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act. They recognize the fact that they are protected from state and federal liability and take advantage of the legal protection to distribute donated food to the food-insecure of Portland.

Another sustainable business model in Portland manages to reroute surplus food to the hungry while also reducing their environmental footprint by delivering on bicycle! B-Line Sustainable Urban Delivery is a bicycle-powered producer-to-vendor grocery delivery service that also uses its routes to glean extra food. As they cycle carts around town carrying fresh produce and locally made value-added products to local grocers, riders also glean the surplus food from the grocery stores and reroute them to local anti-hunger groups. B-Line’s gleaning service is funded by a system that allows clients and other citizens to purchase $20 shares that can buy 40 meals for those in need. Their mobile carts have kept over 70,000 pounds of extra food from the landfill, and they have delivered over 85,000 meals to underserved populations in Portland. (Click here to see a video about B-Line’s B-Shares program.)

Just as it doesn’t make sense for large distributors to make extra stops at smaller grocers to deliver smaller amounts of food, it may not make sense for large-scale gleaning operations to travel from small grocer to small grocer in gas guzzling 18-wheelers. While Charlottesville has less land area than Portland and may easily be served by a few produce-gleaning vans or trucks, B-Line Sustainable Urban Delivery has come up with another solution that could be applied to increasingly bike-friendly Charlottesville. By making smaller deliveries with environmentally friendly vehicles, B-Line has successfully mixed business and community-based social justice efforts to reroute produce to food-insecure populations.

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Links for Former Student Projects

Links to COLLAB former students work sorted by year.

YouTube videos from previous years. (Remember that their assignment was very different, but these may provide insight for farm visits and interviews.)

Thanks!

-S

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GoogleDoc for Interviews

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0AgfkhN3vMIZZdDR4MjZHanEwUmNYVnRMSVJyS3E3SEE&usp=sharing

Please check often and communicate with one another. Thanks!

-Sarah

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Pavilion Gardens as Modern Victory Gardens

This semester, the focus of my research will be the viability of “victory” gardens as a source of produce for Charlottesville and central Virginia residents. I intend to base this research on Jefferson’s ideas of utilitarian garden space, and understand the extent to which U.Va. gardens served as the original American victory gardens. Furthermore, I would like to raise the notion of returning some Pavillion gardens to this role to exemplify the potential for kitchen gardens to serve as modern food sources not only at U.Va., but the Charlottesville community at large.

“The greatest service which can be rendered by any countrymen is to add a useful plant to its culture.” –Thomas Jefferson, 1787

Among the many novel ideas and philosophies of Thomas Jefferson was the notion of place-based living, in which resources used in daily consumption were gathered locally. This concept of living within the resources provided by the natural landscape was represented in Jefferson’s commitment to cultivation at home, in the form of both farms and gardens. At his home at Monticello, this idea was embodied in vegetable and herb gardens. At U.Va., in the living and learning community on the Lawn, gardening as a means of place-based living was realized in the form of kitchen gardens for the original student dining halls on the Range, behind which the Pavilion gardens provided an ideal place for locally-grown produce. These gardens were laid out in a formal manner to display both functional and aesthetic qualities: identical beds were divided by small paths, which differentiated flower beds from those planted with “beans, peas, and cabbage, and many other articles.” Often, these gardens were flanked by rows of fruit trees. To Jefferson, farming and gardening were the greatest means of social change.

Source: Wikipedia

Source: Wikipedia

Flash-forward a century to when the world is in the throws of World War II, and gardening became a nation-wide social movement on behalf of soldiers abroad. The demands of fueling the military encouraged citizens at home to reduce their consumption of store-bought produce, thereby reducing pressure on public food supply. To compensate, communities grew produce in backyards, parks, apartment rooftops, and other vacant spaces so all available resources could go toward the home front. These new local places of cultivation were known as victory gardens, and represented nationwide commitment to alternative food sources in the name of global battle. Apart from assisting with the war effort, victory gardens were seen as civil “morale boosters,” due to the empowerment found in contribution to national efforts and in the reward of self-grown produce. The USDA estimates that during this time, more than 20 million victory gardens were planted across America, producing between nine and ten million tons of fruits and vegetables for homes and communities. This is equal to the amount produced by commercial growers, and demonstrates the capacity for everyday citizens to reduce reliance on nationwide food distributers by growing produce at home.

During the post-war boom, the use of victory gardens as home sources of food plummeted, and with the industrialization of food in the following decades, the American diet shifted to a reliance on store-bought produce and processed goods. Simultaneously, Americans sprawled out of the cities and into the suburbs, where instead of cultivating gardens on large pieces of property, vast swaths of lawn came to characterize personal property. In turn, Americans quickly lost touch not only with their food sources and history, but with each other and their community. The repercussionsof these dramatic movements away from traditional community landscapes, specifically those in which we lived in close contact with each other and the earth, have proven to be dramatic for both public and environmental health. As our distance from the farm has increased, the nutritious quality of food on our plate has decreased: our culture’s reliance on highly-processed and industrially-grown food, including fast-food and a meat-based diet, has coincided with the decline of American health in the form of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and nameless other ailments. The environmental effects of our food system are equally as diverse and far-reaching.

Source:  Voiceofeden.org

Source: Voiceofeden.org

In response to these trends, some people have started asking: what if we cultivated all of those lawns (just not the Lawn!), thereby localizing our food system and providing communities with fresh and healthy produce?  A number of cities have started to test their capacity for cultivating yards, empty lots, and roofs in order to answer this. For example, Planting Justice is an Oakland-based program that aims to help homeowners cultivate their yards while offering educational resources and classes for gardening and nutrition. They specifically focus on economically disadvantaged neighborhoods, which often double as food deserts. Feed Denver, Milwaukee-based Growing Power, and Edible Yards here in Charlottesville are all examples of programs with similar aims. Furthermore, planning commissions are beginning to adapt to these new urban and suburban land use patterns. San Francisco recently passed a measure that allows cities and counties to establish “Urban Agriculture Incentive Zones,” which encourage landowners to cultivate property for urban agricultural use in exchange for a tax deduction.

The bounty of fresh produce available at the City Market in Charlottesville is a clear indicator that this region is ripe for cultivation. However, Market patron demographics suggest this bounty is available for a non-representative portion of the city—namely, middle to upper class, white, and educated citizens. 27.3% of Charlottesville city residents live below the poverty line, and only 50% have a college degree. This disparity in the accessibility of healthy, affordable food, to which we are all entitled, demonstrates the need for victory gardens in city yards which would readily provide homeowners with inexpensive and delicious produce. Replacing city lawns with gardens would work to reconnect people to their food and to the land.

Source: Food Not Lawns

Source: Food Not Lawns

With the recognition that several local groups have already begun to address this idea, I would like to integrate the U.Va. community into this movement by starting a model kitchen garden on-grounds in a Pavilion Garden. A kitchen garden right off the Lawn—the center of U.Va.’s identity—would install a permanent appreciation for one of Jefferson’s most outstanding qualities and our food heritage, while simultaneously conveying the importance and feasibility of local cultivation to students. This garden could be of use Edible Yards and other programs by serving as an educational space for patrons, as well as for U.Va. students who would then have the means of utilizing their skills in Charlottesville. By intertwining critically important modern issues with such a unique and defining aspect of Jeffersonian ideas, U.Va. would enhance its means of parlaying our deep respect for history into meaningful action.

 

 

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Mobile Markets: Access to Community Food…Sustainably? (Kristin F.)

Almost every child is familiar with the iconic sound of an ice cream truck – and they know that they’ll be able to purchase a variety of sweet treats from the vendor as they approach.  What if instead of ice cream, people were brought together to purchase fresh, local food delivered to their neighborhoods?  Mobile farm markets provide an interesting link between food and transportation by expanding access to all areas of a community.  This semester, I will examine programs, policies, and best practices in mobile markets, with the goal of identifying ways Albemarle County could better serve low-income populations located in food deserts.

Central Virginia, with an abundance of farms and food options, would seem to be an unlikely place for people to have difficulty obtaining food.  The U.S Department of Agriculture defines food deserts as census tract as low-income communities where at least 500 persons or 33% of the population live more than one mile from a grocery store.  Food access is also determined using different metrics for urban and rural populations and whether or not the household has access to a car.  In Albemarle County, there are food deserts located just south of the Charlottesville city limits and along Route 29 north of Charlottesville.  Research from the National Mobile Market also describes how residents in food deserts rely on convenience stores or fast food restaurants in the absence of other healthy food sources.

Improving basic access to healthy foods is an essential step to building a local food system because it develops connections between producers and consumers and provides opportunities for economic development, in addition to nutrition benefits.  Finally, mobile markets allow food systems to operate at capacity – ensuring that food that is produced can be distributed and sold rather than wasted.

Speaking of capacity, mobile markets are an opportunity for communities to use their transportation systems more efficiently, especially by using vehicles for more than one purpose. School buses transport children from their homes to class during the school year, and in rural Tennessee, some organizations retrofit them in the summer to serve meals to those enrolled in the free and reduced lunch program.  Although this is not necessarily a partnership between local farmers and food banks, there are potential opportunities for these meals to be sourced locally.

Greeneville, TN

“Four buses deliver a total of 350 lunches each weekday in the rural areas surrounding Greeneville, Tenn. The buses visit trailer parks and housing developments. Children in these areas are often stranded in the summer, and, for some of them, the meal on the bus is the only reliable meal of the day.”  The Washington Post, July 6, 2013.

 Other programs address limited food access by delivering food to communities in the form of a mobile market.  One of the most successful mobile market programs is located in Nashville, TN, which provides produce, meats, dairy, and non-perishable items to the food deserts in Nashville at or below comparable grocery store prices.  After one year of operation, 25% of the mobile market’s customers reported “an increase in their consumption of fruits and vegetables” as a result of a mobile market location in their community.  Other areas that I will research this semester include pricing, the use of SNAP or EBT at mobile markets, and local policies such as permitting and tax collection that would affect these programs.

Bus Farm

The BusFarm in Richmond, VA brings locally grown produce, meat and dairy products to families in urban areas. The visibility of the bus also has an educational component that people associate with “school” – which helps them learn about where their food comes from.

Finally, transportation has begun to make some great strides in terms of energy sustainability.  But does the use of buses, trucks or trailers to move food to many locations in the local area contradict our goals for environmentally friendly policies?  I think there could be some opportunities for these vehicles to use alternative fuel sources or electricity and plan to research the types of vehicles used in mobile markets for this project.  If mobile markets become more prominent in our communities, they can be used to educate consumers not only on sustainable food, but also to demonstrate other aspects of sustainable living.

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The Local Grocery Movement

Grocery stores have historically had a huge impact on shaping the character of Charlottesville. For example, Inge’s Grocery Store was open from 1890-1979 on West Main Street when it was just a dirt road. It served as the center of community life in the Vinegar Hill area, was the only location to buy fresh fish in Charlottesville, and even improved the relationship between blacks and whites.

In the 1970s and 1980s, large corporate supermarkets started replacing smaller local grocery stores, but local groceries have recently been making a resurgence in Charlottesville.

In 2011, Forbes referred to Charlottesville as the “locavore capital of the world.” The list is long, with many that you may or may not be familiar with, including Hunt County Market, Market Street Market, Rebecca’s Natural Foods, feast!, Bellair Market, Integral Yoga, Foods of all Nations, the Fresh Market, Blue Ridge Country Store, Cville Oriental, el Paso Grocery Store, Afghan Grand Market, Goco Food Marts, Great Valu, and the Farm Cville.

These niche markets have huge consumer support in Charlottesville and give back greatly to the community. Non profits gain an average of 250% more support from small businesses than large business. And according to a recent USDA analysis, farmers producing for local markets generally provide 1.3 full-time jobs compared to 0.9 for farmers who sell through traditional wholesale markets.

Integral Yoga, opened in 1975, works with over 30 local farms and donates to charities such as the Local Food Bank and the Charlottesville Free Clinic. Because of their great produce section and their vegetarian, cruelty free products, they have loyal customer support.

Other niche groceries gain popular support by implementing radical ideas. Local Mission Market in San Francisco’s Mission District aims to produce no food waste. It does not throw away bruised or old produce, a practice by which most grocery stores lose 15 to 20 percent of their produce. Instead, they reuse it by pickling, canning, and jamming. Everything that is sold is either fresh or made in house, including pickles, cured fish and meat, pasta, and cheese.

Another interesting niche grocery startup, called in.gredients in Austin, Texas aims to be the first zero-waste grocery. It doesn’t use any packaging, and instead asks customers to bring in their own reusable containers. These innovative ideas are what attracts customers to pay more money to shop at these smaller specialty stores.

One huge difficulty faced by these smaller stores is competing with the larger corporate groceries in terms of price and convenience. Their smaller size limits their ability to have as wide of a variety of items stocked, and they aren’t able to get as large quantities, and therefore, as large discounts. For example, students continue to shop at Kroger because of the convenience of having everything in one store and the low prices. Kroger announced its purchase of the Charlottesville Harris Teeter in July 2013 in a $2.44 billion deal. This purchase would put the six stores that control most of the market under the same company. The top grocery stores in the Charlottesville area as of 2012 are, in order, Kroger, Harris Teeter, Giant, Food Lion, and Sam’s Club.

Those without a car may have more difficulty getting fresh groceries and instead resort to convenience stores and fast food selling processed and packaged items. Short term convenience leads to poor diet choices, nutritional deficiencies, and long term health effects. Michelle Kaiser, a researcher at the University of Missouri, says that the production of sustainable locally grown foods is key to providing long term food security to communities.

Low cost groceries are not limited to big box retailers. Reid Super Save Market on Preston Avenue caters to lower income shoppers. It has a high customer loyalty, and a trip to the store is a social outing. Many live within walking distance from the store in the 10th and Page and Rose Hill Neighborhoods and visit very often.

One of the most Charlottesville’s local food movement’s recent success stories is Relay Foods, an online delivery service, founded in 2007 by Zach Buckner and launched in 2009. It provides convenient and affordable foods to Charlottesville, Northern Virginia, DC, Williamsburg, and Richmond.

Previous online grocers have struggled with providing the services that Relay does. One example, Webvan, located in California near the Silicon Valley, was a huge financial failure and went bankrupt in 2001. It had to deal with huge delivery operations, because their products were not sourced locally. The money it spent on infrastructure greatly exceeded sales.

Relay Foods owes much of its success to it’s local food model, sourcing most of its products “within 100 miles of your city.” Sourcing its groceries locally provides the local growers increased distribution and visibility, and offers convenience to the consumers with easy pickup locations. The business model itself is very cheap, with basic overheads including employees, delivery trucks, and fuel. It offers a different model than the many small specialty groceries offered in Charlottesville by trying to provide for a broad audience.

Local grocery stores have the power to shape the community while providing quality food to residents. The local system cuts out subsidies embedded in the industrial agriculture system by cutting out the middleman. The movement shows a lot of promise, and is buffered not only by a rich culinary history, but the technical innovations for the future.

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Urban Livestock in Charlottesville

Agriculture is humanity’s defining creation. Its development brought about a shift in food acquisition that established the groundwork for civilization as we know it. Without crop cultivation and animal husbandry, the human race would never have had a chance to cease its nomadic lifestyle in favor of living in villages and cities. It is not surprising then that farming existed for thousands of years within the cities born of farming. It is only recently that American cities have experienced a marked decline in urban agriculture, and even more recently that they began working to bring it back.

from commons.wikimedia.org

Barred rock hen in backyard. Credits: Thomas Kriese

Urban agriculture is a fast-growing trend in cities throughout the US that includes a vast array of activities and programs. Due to the broad nature of the topic, it can be tough to pin down exactly what urban agriculture entails. In a 2011 article published in the Boston College Environmental Affairs Law Review, Kate Voigt writes that “assigning one definition is difficult because of this diversity, but in general, urban agriculture includes ‘any processes that produce traditional subsistence, nutritional or commercially profitable food or other grown or raised products, removed from rural domains, and instead cultivate them in special intensive conditions within the urban context or in its surrounding buffer, peri-urban regions.'” One can imagine the vast implications of this definition; it runs the gamut from city-wide CSAs to backyard tomato plants. Within this broad category, urban livestock is a topic that has gained a considerable amount of interest in Charlottesville over the past few years.

Owning livestock is deeply rooted in Charlottesville’s history. From its rural beginnings up through the twentieth century, farm animals played a vital role in the city’s food system. While keeping urban livestock experienced a decline at the end of the twentieth century, it is experiencing a resurgence with the burgeoning local food movement. In the past few years, the city has taken measures to reintroduce select livestock into the community through revised zoning ordinances (Chapter 4, Animals and Fowl) regarding animal ownership. Accordingly, residents of Charlottesville can legally house chickens, bees, and up to three miniature goats on private property within city limits.

Goat in Portland, OR. Credits: beth h

Goat in Portland, OR. Credits: beth h

There are many advantages associated with owning urban livestock. It enhances community bonds by bringing people with shared interests together. Charlottesville is home to many different groups that exist to promote urban livestock such as CLUCK (The Charlottesville League of Urban Chicken Keepers) and the Charlottesville League of Urban Goatherds. Increased community engagement results in an enhanced sense of place and civic involvement. Also, raising urban livestock becomes more economically efficient as the food supply becomes more distantly sourced. Keeping food production at the local level ensures that any profit made from the distribution of that food stays in the community as opposed to going to nationally syndicated food conglomerates. Urban livestock can play an important role in localizing sources of eggs, milk, honey, and cheese if it is done on a large enough scale. Even on an individual scale, raising livestock is a worthwhile venture. Being intimately tied with food production increases self-sufficiency, which is a crucial part of sustaining a community food system. Resilient, local food systems are necessary for assuring access to essential goods regardless of external factors.

While there are many positive aspects of urban livestock, there are always arguments against inner-city farm animals. People complain about smells and noises associated with livestock. In the case of apiaries, there is also the additional hazard of bee-related allergies. The solution to these potential issues is increased policy regulation, like that observed by the Albemarle Planning Commission when reviewing the Albemarle Comprehensive Plan. One of these regulations includes minimum land square footage requirements for each type of animal. According to Commissioner Russell Lafferty, representative for the Jack Jouett District, “if we don’t make any rules it’ll come back to bite us. But I believe that more and more people should learn how to sustain themselves in a time where food and fuel is going to get more and more expensive and less available to all of us.”

I couldn’t agree more.

 

 

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Expanding the City Market

The very first weekend of my first year at UVa, I remember feeling a little lost in the sea of completely unfamiliar faces and strange surroundings that I had yet to get accustomed to. I was the only one for my high school to come to UVa, wasn’t from Virginia, and only knew one other girl. But, I remembered hearing about how there was a great farmer’s market next to the downtown mall when I was visiting Charlottesville for orientation with my mom and grandmother (yes, she insisted on coming to Cville for orientation). So, since I was awake earlier than most and had no idea what to do with myself, I threw on my running shoes, grabbed some cash and headed out the door of Dabney towards the downtown mall. When I entered the City Market I immediately felt comfortable and not so lost in this new, unfamiliar place. I was so happy to be exploring the stalls full of local produce, homemade jam, local cheese, and felt completely at home. I took full advantage of the free samples, trying absolutely everything, and was too full by the time I made it to the bagel sandwich stand to actually buy one. I walked home, far too full to contemplate running, with some local apples and a bag of granola, wishing I wasn’t confined to a tiny dorm room with only a mini fridge and could have purchased much more food to cook for myself.

Because the Charlottesville City Market was the first experience I had at UVa that made me feel at home and because it is what has sparked my interest in local food systems and the “locavore” culture, I am interested in exploring how the scope of the market and the services it offers could be expanded so that it could provide more effective education and job creation for the community. I am curious about how customers at the City Market could gain more knowledge about sustainable food systems, as the clientele at the farmers’ market would likely be receptive to this information. As I am very interested in local food and cooking and love farmer’s markets, I am fairly confident in my knowledge of nutrition and how to cook much of the produce available for purchase, I know that I am not in the majority in possessing this information and think education about nutrition and cooking would be beneficial for all community members, and especially those with a low-income who are on a strict budget. It is possibly to eat healthily on a low budget, but it takes time, effort, and education to make smart purchases. I want to explore the current effort to establish a commercial kitchen and cannery that could be connected with the City Market. The community kitchen could host educational seminars and cooking class for how to use the local produce and eat more seasonally, sustainably, and locally. These organizations could be linked to the City Market in that produce converted into prepared/canned goods in the community kitchen could in turn be sold at the City Market. This would hopefully allow for more education about community food systems to be generated in the community and increase the opportunities for everyone to become more involved in the system, dispelling the notion of local food as elitist. This effort would contribute to strengthening the local food system by involving more people in the process and would facilitate stories to be told and connections to be made increasing social capital. The Fondy Market in northern Milwaukee serves as an excellent example of how expansions in the services provided by the City Market could be extremely beneficial to the community. The Fondy Market sells fresh produce grown largely by immigrant farmers, and accepts foodstamps so that low-income individuals can buy fresh produce. In exploring these opportunities it will be important to consider viability, feasibility, and desirability of such projects, and thus my research will require significant interaction with community members.

Fondy Farmer's Market, Milwaukee, WisconsinThe Fondy Market, Milwaukee, Wisconsin (Photo by Jessica Russell)

I will need to investigate the barriers such a project might face. To do so, I plan on engaging several community members. The Local Food Hub, is a nonprofit organization that seeks to increase small farm viability and increase improve access to local food in the Charlottesville community. It originally sought to create a cannery and community kitchen, though it is not currently part of their services. However, in Prince Edward County, a community kitchen and cannery has been established in Farmville, VA for both home and commercial use. Looking at the barriers, hoops, and successes this organization has had will assist in informing what might work and what won’t here in Charlottesville. Another success is the stall operated at the Charlottesville City Market by the Vinegar Hill Women’s Canning Cooperative. The Healthy Food Coalition here in Charlottesville is also working on creating an education center. The organizations are certainly in place to make this project feasible, but many questions remain to be asked.

Vinegar Hill Project Women's Canning Cooperative, City Market, June 23, 2012

Vinegar Hill Project Women’s Canning Cooperative, City Market, June 23, 2012

In terms of the heritage of the market itself, I am interested in exploring if any sort of markets existed before the founding of the City Market, and if so, where were they held? And how often did they operate? I wonder if the current location is the most ideal location for the market, while I find it easy enough to navigate, I wonder if the inclines and crowds would make it difficult for the more elderly or disabled population. A more permanent structure or more accessible location is worth exploring.

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Grower Services in Albemarle County (Sam’s Blog)

Farmers are the backbone of any food system. Farmers are the ones who, day after day, season after season, and year after year, toil tirelessly to grow food to feed people.

To be a farmer who really works with the land and keeps soils fertile and productive for future generations, one must understand the inner complexities of soil nutrient cycles and crop rotational processes, as well as methods for topsoil regeneration and organic pest/weed control techniques, among other things. Furthermore, a farmer must be able to not only keep track of his or her crops, animals, and fields, but also connect and coordinate with local markets that will make those foodstuffs available to consumers.

Photo Credits: Isabel Greenberg

Photo Credits: Isabel Greenberg

Without the green thumbs and robust ecological knowledge of skillful farmers, the world would be filled with many more hungry people and much less good food.

However, farmers do not do all of this alone. At least, in a healthy, secure, sustainable, and vibrant community food system, they should not have to. A region’s ability to develop a rich network of grower services for its farmers is one of the most vital factors in building a secure local food system and nurturing community sustainability.

We are fortunate here in Charlottesville and in the surrounding Albemarle County to have a diverse network of grower services that achieves just that.

So what are grower services?

Grower services can range from educational training programs to distribution networks and facilities (such as refrigerated warehouses and delivery trucks), which enhance farmer’s capacities to produce, process, and distribute food to the local community. The Charlottesville Local Food Hub  is a great example of a non-profit organization dedicated to providing farmers with “access to high-value training and educational opportunities” (Local Food Hub).

Photo Credits: Flickr User campuskitchens, licensed under Creative Commons

Photo Credits: Flickr User campuskitchens, licensed under Creative Commons

At the forefront of the Local Food Hub’s Growers Services Program is their educational farm, Maple Hill Farm. Maple Hill Farm is a “community-based learning center,” where local farmers can come for farm education classes and workshops. Examples of recent workshops include “Ag Marketing for Small Ag Businesses,” “Providing for the Full Eating Season,” and “High Tunnel Crop Production” (Local Food Hub). These workshops provide farmers with the opportunity to pick up new skills and techniques and connect with other farmers in the Charlottesville region.

In addition to hosting workshops at the educational farm, the Local Food Hub provides farmers with many other services including aggregation and distribution, access to institutional (i.e. wholesale) customers, and pre-season planning (Local Food Hub). What’s more, becoming a partnering farm with the Local Food Hub is FREE! There is no question that the Local Food Hub is an invaluable non-profit organization for farmers and consumers alike in the Charlottesville area.

Photo Credits: Flicker User Ryan Thompson, licensed under Creative Commons

Photo Credits: Flicker User Ryan Thompson, licensed under Creative Commons

Another organization providing important grower services to farmers in our region is the Albemarle County/City of Charlottesville office of the Virginia Cooperative Extension. The Virginia Cooperative Extension (VCE) is a statewide collection of public agencies that are operated by Virginia Tech and Virginia State University. The County Cooperative Extension office in Charlottesville has a number of dedicated experts available to farmers at all times of the growing season for free consultation and advice about agricultural issues. These county officials include experts specializing in horticulture and natural resources, animal science, small ruminants, cattle, commercial horticulture and greenhouses, vineyards, orchards, beekeeping, forestry, and farm business management (VCE). In addition to their team of county agents, the VCE publishes brochures about specific agricultural areas, such as beef cattle production and sheep and goat information, and holds programs such as the Virginia Pork Conference and Sheep Symposiums (VCE). The VCE has even published a document entitled “Resources for Developing Local Food Systems that Strengthen Community Food Security & Sustainable Agriculture,” which lists over 100 national and state organizations that provide resources for farmers in our area.

As the manager of a one-acre student garden myself, I recently had the fortune of getting involved with another valuable organization in our area providing resources and support for local farmers. The organization is called CRAFT, which stands for Collaborative Regional Alliance for Farmer Training, and is a coalition of sustainable farmers in self-selected regions around the country. We are lucky enough to have one such coalition organization right here in Charlottesville. The Charlottesville CRAFT group is a collection of farms in our area, including Bellaire Farm, New Branch Farm, Sharondale Farm, Twin Oaks Farm, Innisfree Gardens, Forrest Green Farm, Radical Roots Farm, and others. Farm members of the group meet monthly to hold tutorials and workshops around the most pressing challenges that farmers are facing in our area. Some of these programs could include workshops on how to construct a hoop house or how to plant in raised beds. The topics for the workshops are selected by the farmers in the group.

Photo Credits: Samantha Taggart

Photo Credits: Samantha Taggart

Last to be discussed, but certainly not least at all in importance, is the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange (SESE). SESE is a seed company located on a 72-acre farm in the Charlottesville region that promotes and teaches the value of saving seeds. The company sells over “700 varieties of vegetable, flower, herb, grain and cover crop seeds” including “many unusual, Southern heirlooms, including peanuts, southern peas, naturally colored cotton, collards, okra, roselle, turnip greens, corns for roasting and meal, and butterbeans” (SESE). The SESE is cooperatively owned by people living in the Acorn Community, which is an intentional community located outside of Charlottesville. In addition to selling non-chemically-treated seeds, the SESE provides farmers with growing guides about fall and winter gardening, vegetable growing, herb and flower growing, and seed saving.

As a prospective future farmer myself, the question of what resources a community is providing for its farmers is very important to me. For this research project, I will examine the most widespread and critical needs of farmers in our area and look at how those needs are or are not being met by grower services in our community. I will also investigate broader issues such as small-scale farmer access to wholesale and diversified markets, opportunities for technical and practical knowledge sharing among farmers, farm worker training programs, and seed-saving/seed-sharing programs.

Creating a strong network of well-trained and knowledgeable farmers in our area and providing the resources that such farmers need is one of the most important components of building a strong local food system and ensuring future community sustainability.

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