In Waterbury, Connecticut, vacant lots are becoming community greenhouses – growing jobs and growing food. Roanoke, Virginia is planning to build raised beds in empty lots to become community gardens that increase healthy food access. In Missoula, Montana, asbestos abatement is allowing a local food coop to expand its footprint to include a café and community kitchen and to increase their capacity to work with local farmers and schools.
These three projects, and hundreds more like them, are supported by the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Brownfields and Land Revitalization program. Since its inception in 1995, EPA’s Brownfields Program has helped communities across the country successfully clean up, mitigate, and reclaim land that otherwise would sit underused and abandoned. EPA estimates that there are more than 45,000 brownfields in the U.S. Through this program, nearly 39,000 acres are ready for reuse. Cleaning up and reinvesting in these properties increases the local tax base, facilitates job growth, utilizes existing infrastructure, takes development pressures off of undeveloped open land, and both improves and protects the environment. EPA estimates the Brownfields Program has leveraged over 60,000 jobs and more than $14 billion in brownfields cleanup and redevelopment funding from the private and public sectors.
EPA’s Brownfield Program is emerging as an important resource for communities interested in developing local or regional food systems, especially in urban areas. Many EPA Brownfields investments are featured in the USDA Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Compass, including Real Food Farms, a flourishing urban farm in the heart of Baltimore. In 2011, the City of Baltimore received a Brownfield Workforce and Training Grant for CivicWorks, Baltimore’s urban service corps, to support Real Food Farms. With this support, over 100 youth received green job training and the land was readied for food production. From there, Real Food Farms successfully applied to USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service to build a hoop house and to the Agricultural Marketing Service’s (AMS) Farmers Market Promotion Program to install an EBT machine on a mobile market, thereby increasing access to fresh, healthy local food for neighboring residents on SNAP.
On May 15-17, thousands of engineers, planners, community developers and others working on sustainable land use and reclamation will be at the 2013 Brownfields Conference in Atlanta, Georgia, the largest event in the nation that focusing environmental revitalization and economic redevelopment. The Conference includes hundreds of workshops, educational sessions and opportunities to learn how brownfield reclamation can be part of communities planning sustainable development initiatives, including agriculture. There is even a dedicated track focusing on brownfield development for urban agriculture, which includes sessions on how brownfield revitalization for agriculture is spurring economic development towns and cities of all sizes. Public health practitioners, engineers, planners and attorneys can also get continuing education credits by attending the Conference. If you are in the Atlanta area, it’s not too late to register for Brownfields 2013. From afar, you can follow happenings on twitter at #brownfields2013.
EPA’s Brownfield Program is proof positive that alchemy does exist. Across the country, it has been transforming empty lots into economic and agricultural gold.