Opinion

Why Raleigh needs a stronger commitment to urban agriculture

Katie Murray, Raleigh Urban Agriculture programs manager with the Inter-Faith Food Shuttle, helps Hunter Magnet Elementary School student Tyson Vandyke harvest collards during a Blooming Botany elective class Thursday, Nov. 17, 2016 at the school in Raleigh. The harvested greens will be included in more than 80 boxes of food that will be distributed to families in need for Thanksgiving.
Katie Murray, Raleigh Urban Agriculture programs manager with the Inter-Faith Food Shuttle, helps Hunter Magnet Elementary School student Tyson Vandyke harvest collards during a Blooming Botany elective class Thursday, Nov. 17, 2016 at the school in Raleigh. The harvested greens will be included in more than 80 boxes of food that will be distributed to families in need for Thanksgiving. tlong@newsobserver.com

The City of Raleigh supports urban agriculture rhetorically in its Strategic Plan. The city has made ad hoc interventions, like providing resources for rain harvesting at Raleigh City Farm and the Inter-Faith Food Shuttle farm.

Yet this leaves Raleigh behind other cities, like Atlanta, that implement systematic programs supporting the wide array of urban agriculture. Without a comprehensive plan, programs like land for community gardens, setting up organic matter drop-offs for composting, hiring master gardeners to provide expert knowledge, and more do not have the municipal support they need.

This is the case, even though the city’s Environmental Advisory Board has unanimously adopted an Urban Agriculture Program recommendation. That recommendation includes important steps, such as surveying vacant and public land, building a farm incubator system, and hiring a full-time city employee to administer urban agriculture programs. Implementing the recommendations will bring stability and growth to urban agriculture, which will entail beneficial impacts on communities, such as food security, food literacy, biodiversity, and income.

The evidence is clear: urban agriculture has important social, economic, and ecological benefits. For instance, Raleigh is a Bee City, meaning we support pollinator habitats. A major way to do that is to increase green space connectivity, thereby providing better conditions for pollinators to move around.

If the green space is a community garden, that doubles as communal space increasing social connections and leading to a more positive social environment. It also provides supplemental food that is typically more diverse and allows a family to save money. All this, while providing jobs to master gardeners and increasing civic engagement. Truly, a win-win-win.

To maximize the gains from urban agriculture, we must assure that they are distributed equitably. Already community gardens in Raleigh are concentrated in food secure areas, reducing their beneficial impact in communities that need them.

Through public policy, the City Council can provide land, resources, and labor to communities interested in establishing their own urban agriculture projects, regardless of their economic resources. By doing so, the city can use urban agriculture as an important tool for food security, sustainability, and community well being.

The City of Raleigh’s strategic plan calls for “urban agriculture” as a way to “enhance citizens’ quality of life” and promote “active living and healthy lifestyles.” The Environmental Advisory Board recommendation exists to bring this about. The evidence demonstrates it is most likely a good investment. There is civil society support, like the Capital Area Food Network, Inter-Faith Food Shuttle, and United Methodist Church, and there is business support from the Irregardless Café, Raleigh City Farm and others.

Considering all of this, when does the City Council follow through and invest to move urban agriculture into its next phase? The time is now.

Andrew R. Smolski is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at N.C. State University and a graduate fellow at the Center for Environmental Farming Systems. He can be reached at arsmolsk@ncsu.edu.
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