Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Creating Sustainability in Suburbia with Neighborhood Foodsheds

I've had this on my list to write about for several months - the neighborhood foodshed. I met a sustainable landscaper that has mapped out all the details on how to organize a food-growing cooperative with your neighbors, as he has done in Santa Barbara California:

Recognizing the Role of Suburbia in Sustainable Living
You don’t have to have a survivalist attitude to build a neighborhood foodshed, says Owen Dell.  All it takes is coordinating and sharing the growing of food with your neighbors. 

Dell has a visionary idea about the future of food growing. He believes we can use suburbs to build sustainability in the sense that suburbs can harnessed as local food sources for neighborhoods.  Growing food where it will be consumed and distributed means breaking free of dependence on fossil fuel for our produce.

Suburban areas are a valuable resource: homes are surrounded by garden spaces and are often built on former agricultural lands. It doesn’t take a lot of space to grow an impressive amount of food, especially if you organize your neighborhood to cooperate in growing a diversity of vegetables, fruit, and keeping chickens for eggs. 

There are also social benefits to growing and sharing food. In a neighborhood foodshed there is shared knowledge, and shared responsibility - the result is building community and enabling healthy diets.

The CAFO That is Suburbia 
According to Dell there is only a three-day supply of food in any given city: what happens on the fourth day when there is a natural disaster or some kind of disruption that stops the food supply chain? Most of us don’t realize how dependent we are on the unseen "food system"  for our daily meals. He says that cities are like a CAFO (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation, aka, a feed lot) for human beings: we are separated, dependent, and caged. 

Building relationships with our neighbors by sharing a fundamental activity such as growing food is a way to reconnect to the earth that feeds us, together as the human family.

Organizing Your Neighborhood Foodshed 
You can download his excellent flyer packed with background information on foodsheds and ideas for getting started here.

Here are some pointers from the flyer-
After appointing a leader and a dedicated core team, consider the following:

1. The foodshed area should be small enough to be walkable while carrying a load of produce.

2. It should be large enough to grow food for the participants.

3. Different crops are assigned to those willing to grow them and share.

4. Designate regular times for food swapping- perhaps a weekend produce market in someone’s driveway.

5. Share knowledge and provide ongoing assistance with gardening issues.

6. Those who cannot or don’t want to grow food may want to offer their gardens for others to use.

Owen Dell is one of the engaging speakers that I heard at the EcoFarm conference last February.  Dell is the author of Sustainable Landscaping for Dummies, (read a review here) and has a sustainable landscaping design business in Santa Barbara, Califonia.

Do you belong to a foodshed, formal or informal? I'd like to know more...

A version of this post was published on Eat Drink Better

Photos: Patricia Larenas, Urban Artichoke

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