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Category: Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food

Urban Garden Tackles Hunger, Boosts Nutrition

Lee and Linda Marshall harvesting herbs in the church’s seasonal high tunnel

Lee and Linda Marshall harvest herbs in the church’s seasonal high tunnel (NRCS photo by Barbara Bowen).

One high tunnel can’t feed the world, but it can make a world of difference in providing fresh fruits and vegetables to those with limited access to healthy foods. These plastic covered structures use natural sunlight to create more favorable conditions for vegetables and specialty crops. And for the 31st Street Baptist Church in Richmond, Va., one high tunnel has given them a new identity as an urban farm and model for community agriculture.

The church’s senior pastor, Dr. Morris Henderson, began this new chapter in 2009 when he expanded their small garden to meet a growing need.  The local soup kitchen had closed and members of the congregation were bringing their own food to help the local poor and homeless. During this time, Vernon Heath, a small farm agent with Virginia State University, suggested the pastor contact the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to submit an application for a seasonal high tunnel. Read more »

Behind the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Initiative: Matt Russell

Matt Russell (right) with his USDA colleagues Christina Conell (left) and Deborah Kane (center), at the 2015 USDA Farm to School Grantee Gathering in Denver, CO

Matt Russell (right) with his USDA colleagues Christina Conell (left) and Deborah Kane (center), at the 2015 USDA Farm to School Grantee Gathering in Denver, CO. The annual gathering is an opportunity for Farm to School grantees from across the country to meet face to face, network and share best practices.

“The term ‘farm to school’ involves thinking of the whole plate, so to speak. It’s about increasing the amount of local and regional foods served in school cafeterias while also increasing education and community outreach for kids, and creating market opportunities for producers.”

So says Matt Russell, Grant Program Manager for the Farm to School Program at USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS).  Matt works to support school districts, non-profits, and other stakeholders in bringing more local and regional food into the school meal program. Read more »

Feed Thy Neighbor: South LA Youth Use Neighborhood Gardens to Educate, Better Community Health

Temiloluwa Salako, a Cultivar with RootDownLA, showing off a grain plant called amaranth that is growing in one of the program’s community gardens

Temiloluwa Salako, a Cultivar with RootDownLA, shows off a grain plant called amaranth that is growing in one of the program’s community gardens. Salako was recently accepted to Pitzer College after writing an essay about his experiences with this community food project.

It began with the desire of a group of South Los Angeles high school students to increase access to more effective nutrition education at their school.  They started small—a monthly guest speaker, bags of veggies, cutting boards, and nutrition education. Now, their efforts have blossomed and manifested into RootDownLA, a community food project operating in three South Los Angeles neighborhoods with the help of the youth participants, referred to as Cultivars.

As a recipient of a $226,705 Community Food Project grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), this youth-driven organization works closely with members of the community to grow fresh fruits and vegetables and provide access to more quality food. The major encouragement of all of RootDown LA’s activities is for people to choose to eat good food. Read more »

With USDA Help, Farmers Market Goes Uptown

Uptown City Market graphic

AMS Architect Fidel Delgado is helping design a year-round community gathering place that brings local foods to downtown Greenwood, S.C.

Across the country, from small towns to big cities, a vibrant downtown likely includes a farmers market.  That is exactly what city leaders from Greenwood, S.C., were thinking when they talked about revitalizing their downtown.  The Greenwood City Council voted unanimously to approve a $2.1 million construction bid for a new multi-functional farmers market, the Uptown Market.  The Uptown Market will be 156 feet long and 47 feet wide and a focal point for the community.  The planned site was originally the location of the town’s railroad station and inspired the design that mimics a train station to fit the historical character of the town.

USDA supports partnerships across the country to create greater economic impact for rural Americans.  In 2013, USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) Architect Fidel Delgado got involved in providing technical assistance for the development of Greenwood’s new farmers market.  With over 20 years of experience, Delgado provided case studies and worked with City Manager Charlie Barrineau to understand the community needs, learn about the area farmers, and review the site. Greenwood Mayor Welborn Adams said, “Fidel brought great insight to the project and really helped expedite the process.” Read more »

School Garden Brings Local Foods, Agriculture Education into Students’ Lives

Students plant hundreds of red Russian kale seedlings to be harvested for their summer CSA program

Students plant hundreds of red Russian kale seedlings to be harvested for their summer CSA program. (Photo credit: Jessica Kourkounis)

One of the best parts of my job as a Farm to School Regional Lead for the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service is visiting schools and districts that are bringing local foods into the cafeteria and teaching students where their food comes from. And I am always particularly excited when I get to visit programs with innovative school garden components, like William Penn High School, part of Delaware’s Colonial School District.

Several years ago, William Penn went through a major restructure.  Part of what came out of that process was a renewed commitment to agricultural education, and the recognition that the 117-acre William Penn Historic Farm, operated by a local land trust, could be a major asset to the school. A new agriculture “major” was established, and students took over two acres of the adjacent parcel to grow more than 30 varieties of fruits and vegetables. They also started a CSA program selling shares to teachers and community members. Read more »

Bringing the Farm to the City: How a Local Land Grant University is Supporting a Different Kind of Agriculture

Dr. Ellen Harris, Director of the Beltsville Agricultural Research Center taking a look at the red leaf lettuce

Dr. Ellen Harris, Director of the Beltsville Agricultural Research Center taking a look at the red leaf lettuce being grown at the 144 Acre Muirkirk Agricultural Experimentation.

This year I have had the pleasure of visiting a number of urban agriculture operations. From California to Cleveland, the ability of individuals to realize the multidimensional benefits of agricultural production and leverage them in an urban context has been nothing short of amazing.

This past week I visited a University that is heavily involved in both the research and extension aspect of urban agriculture — right in the backyard of the Department’s Washington, D.C. headquarters. The University of the District of Columbia’s (UDC) Muirkirk Agricultural Experimentation is located about 20 minutes north of the school’s D.C. campus. Upon arrival I found everything from activists passionate about learning how to best provide their neighbors with fresh produce, to researchers developing improved hydroponics systems; and even students working with community organizations on rice varieties suitable to be grown in urban areas. Read more »