We are creating a model for collaboration among community members to design and create food-producing green spaces in urban neighborhoods.
Our project seeks to contribute to the movement of sustaining local and native food production through community-driven urban agriculture, or “food forests”. Similar efforts have been shown to improve “fresh vegetable production, physical activity, green space, job creation, storm-water retention, greenhouse gas mitigation, neighborhood beautification, ‘eyes on the street’, and community-building,” (McClintock). They “have strengthened communities, fostering multi-ethnic and multi-generational exchanges of food ... knowledge.”
In addition, they contribute to democratization and citizen involvement in our communities. They “can foster civic engagement by creating inclusive spaces for public participation and for social learning about food production and consumption…[and] ‘cultivate the political and social skills necessary for effective citizenship,'” (McClintock). The more we can solidify these patterns of social interaction, the more we can make our voices heard as citizens working to solve our most difficult challenges, like climate change.
Community-led urban agriculture also has implications for broader systems and structures. “Emphasis on food and agroecological citizenship privileges public over private gain, framing healthy food as a public good and access to it an unalienable right that cannot be left to the logic of the market… Urban agriculture and other [alternative food networks] can ultimately serve as a counter-hegemonic tool to reclaim ‘the commons’ from the enclosure of capitalist commodification by ‘ensur[ing] that access to basic life-goods like food can be met through non-commodity channels, particularly when sufficient purchasing power is lacking’.” It does this, by working to “re-localize or reconnect production-consumption linkages separated by the industrial agri-food system," (McClintock).
With these in mind, community collaboration on urban agriculture such as we propose can go a long way toward creating a sustainable and climate-aware culture.
What actions do you propose?
Neighborhood food forests in urban parks have proven viable in cities all over the world. Resilience.Org lists 20 successful projects from around the globe in which permaculture designers, landscape architects, and community members have come to gether to share knowledge and skills, and put them into action in their neighborhood green spaces. Ben Nobleman Park in Toronto, ON has a community orchard in which volunteers maintain 14 fruit trees, much of the harvested fruit goes to the local food bank, and the space is used to host “blossom and fruit festivals, pruning workshops, orchard picnics, children’s educational workshops and other community events." In London, UK, The Urban Orchard Project has created dozens of urban food forests at schools from elementary to university, affordable housing sites, apartment complexes, a hospital, and city open spaces. The Resilience.Org article linked above includes successes in a number of US cities as well, including Asheville, NC; Austin, TX; Bloomington, IN; Boston, MA; Glendale, OH; Los Angeles, CA; Madison, WI; Philadelphia, PA; San Francisco, CA; Seattle, WA; Tacoma, WA; and Youngstown, OH.
One challenge for projects like these is the competition that many organizations face in trying to implement them. Where many similar but separate organizations exist, competition for funding and visibility can get in the way of productive collaboration. The more organizations are able to see their shared interests, the more they can assist and augment each other’s efforts rather than impede them through competition.
With all of their potential benefits, we want to see projects like these become a reality here in Boulder and to make them feasibly replicable in communities around the world. Rather than handing all of the design and construction processes over to hired professionals, communities need the opportunity to share that responsibility in order to reap all of the benefits. With all of this in mind we are creating a model that will provide such an opportunity, bringing residents to the table with multiple organizations, experts, and professionals to design their own neighborhood green spaces. Edible landscapes have begun to appear in the most progressive cities in the US and elsewhere, and we want to see that accelerate; it is time that Boulder become an example of how our cities can foster civic participation and collaboration through food-producing green spaces.
We will take the following action steps:
Organize and host gatherings, discussions, and workshops with landscape designers, city parks officials, and local residents to plan renovations to their parks. We will provide childcare and food for these.
Organize and host workdays to break ground in our local parks with neighborhood residents and volunteers. This will include obtaining soil amendments, trees, seeds, support structures, etc., as well as advertising the workdays and recruiting outside volunteers.
Continue bringing in different organizations who might have an interest in collaborating on these projects. There are organizational roles for everything from supplying resources, to contributing labor, to providing future educational programs to be offered in these spaces.
Who will take these actions?
The project is being headed by a steering committee of a diverse group of dedicated community members, ranging in expertise and knowledge. It currently consists of University of Colorado INVST Community Leadership Program students, multiple University of Colorado Faculty, Permaculture Designers from Rockies Edge Permaculture Institute, the executive director of 350 Colorado and other Boulder residents. The project idea came out of the work of The Shed (Boulder County Foodshed), a coalition of City, County, BVSD schools, CU, and nonprofits and businesses promoting local food, with support and participation from former City Council member Tim Plass and current City Mayor Suzanne Jones.
What are the key challenges?
Key potential challenges include getting city approval for use of land, procuring sufficient funding and maintaining community involvement. As for city approval, one of the main hindrances is the possibility that the community coalition will drop their end of the bargain, leaving the city with more work and expense than it bargained for. One potential option that would address this is to operate under a memorandum of understanding with the Boulder Parks and Recreation Department, similar to the current process for public flower bed adoption by community members. We have spoken with Parks Department staff, and they are enthusiastic about implementing community-driven projects like ours throughout the city.
We will also have to develop a maintenance plan for any food that is produced in public spaces so that we do not create extra work for city parks employees. We have on our core project team a representative of Community Fruit Rescue, a project of Boulder Food Rescue, 350 Colorado, Fallingfruit.org, and Boulder Bear Coalition that is sponsored by the City of Boulder. This coalition will organize harvest days to prevent food from staying in place to rot and attract nuisance animals. The City also currently contracts with the Boulder Bridge House, through their Ready-to-Work Program, for landscaping services. Our project could add an additional benefit to that relationship, as Ready-to-Work employees could also harvest food for the Bridge House’s Community Table Kitchen program. It is also important to mention that maintenance costs and effort decreases with the continued longevity of an established food forest.
What are the key benefits?
The project will bring community members together to participate in a shared project, empowering residents to create their own green neighborhood gathering spaces. This will, in turn, provide space for further community engagement and neighborhood relation-building. Unlike the "community gardens" we have come to know, this project enables "communal gardening." Whereas the former consists of individuals tending their individual plots, the latter brings neighbors together to share the space in a way that builds real relationships.
Permaculture and place-making experts will assist in the design process, sharing their knowledge with community members about sustainable local and native food production. The space can provide some of that sustainable local and native food, which may be harvested by visitors, educating them about and connecting them to their local natural environment in the process. The ecological understanding developed through this interaction and knowledge sharing provides an important framework for viewing a world confronted by global ecological and human challenges like climate change.
Projects like this also make food production visible within our community, and puts it into a truly local and immediate context, instead of relegating it to distant locales, large agribusinesses, and hidden externalities.
What are the proposal’s costs?
Coordinator staff: $3,780
Administration (10% of funds raised): $1,000
Organizational development and trainings: $200
Printing and copying: $500
Transportation (truck rental): $200
Supplies (soil amendments, trees, seeds, support structures, etc.): $2,600
Workshop/meeting/event expenses (food, childcare, space rental): $1,630
Begin conversation with organizations, professionals, city officials, and community members about possible locations and design elements.
Complete design plan with residents’ needs and desires in mind. Plan logistics and workdays, and acquire the necessary funds, donations, resources, etc. Establish plan for frequent maintenance of the space once physical renovation has begun.
Implement workdays: soil amendments, tree and seed planting, building support structures, etc. Perform frequent maintenance as required and established in work plan. Work with educational organizations to plan programming, to be offered after completion of the physical renovations.
Reflect on and evaluate progress with core participants (the organizations, professionals, city officials, and residents involved), and implement feedback.
Related proposalsSoil for Life Carbon Sequestration Challenge
Ben Nobleman Park Community Orchard. About Us. Retrieved from http://communityorchard.ca/about-us/
Ignaczak, Nina M. (2014). 20 Urban Food Forests from Around the World. Resilience. Retrieved from http://www.resilience.org/stories/2014-08-01/20-urban-food-forests-from-around-the-world
McClintock, N. (2014). Radical, reformist, and garden-variety neoliberal: Coming to terms with urban agriculture’s contradictions. Local Environment, 19(2), pp. 152-153.
OrchardPeople. (2016). Ben Nobleman Park Community Orchard. Basel Switzerland Learns About Ben Nobleman Orchard. Retrieved from http://communityorchard.ca/2016/01/17/basel-switzerland-learns-about-ben-nobleman-orchard/#more-1984
The Urban Orchard Project. Visit Our Sites. Retrieved from http://www.theurbanorchardproject.org/about-us/visit-our-sites