Farming Connections: How Urban Farming Creates Community

You enter the grocery store. Fluorescent lights stare down at you while you push your cart and consult your shopping list on your iPhone. You pull item after packaged item down from the shelves and busy yourself with scrolling through emails while you wait for the deli worker to slice your sandwich meat for the week. Oblivious to the other people in line around you, you keep scrolling.

It’s OK, everyone is doing the same thing.

This is not how our food system used to, or should, work. Food is, at its core, a personal and even intimate experience, dependent on the sweat and hard work of the many people who contribute to its journey from seed packet to dinner plate. But we are so removed from all of that, that we are removed and disconnected from not only how food works but from each other as well — from the people who grow our food to our neighbors and fellow shoppers.

Our loss of connection to our food has resulted in a loss of community. But there is a way back. We can, once again, be innately intertwined with the origins of our food and the journey of how it arrives on our plate. We must recognize the potential of local food. Being involved in the food and farming world, whether as a producer or a consumer, brings people together and creates long-lasting community.

Out of Sight, Out of Mind

Many people think of food as something far removed from daily life. Farms are not visible unless you’re out in the countryside, taking in the long, uniform rows of crops. You have to try pretty hard to see the origins of food within city limits. And why would you need to try at all? The supermarket shelves magically refill every day.

But being okay with food being out of sight, out of mind is a privilege. Food security is a huge problem in America, with 16.5 million people who lack easy access to a supermarket. It’s up to urban farmers to bring food production back inside city walls, not only for connection but also for survival. People’s lives literally depend on it.

Imagine the low-income family that doesn’t own a car and can’t drive to the nearest supermarket, which isn’t very “near” at all. With the presence of urban farming, they might be able to take advantage of fresh, healthy food grown right in their neighborhood.

Visibility

Urban farming is not a new thing, but it has certainly gained more visibility in recent years. It has also arguably helped people come face to face with their food and the farmers who produced it. Linking a face to a vegetable creates connections and even plants the seed for future connections.

Personal interaction is key to creating a society of people who care about their food and where it comes from. We cannot go on in our current state. In a world where 27.6 million Americans have heart disease and 29.1 million suffer from diabetes, the consequences of this loss of connection with food are dire. But everything changes when your food has a face.

Take the farmers market for example. When you shop at your local farmers market, you likely see many of the same faces each week. Farmers, of course, but also customers. Perhaps you meet a fellow heirloom tomato aficionado at your favorite veggie booth and discover you both attend the same meditation class on Sunday mornings.

When you go to local markets consistently, you begin to develop a community. You’re making healthy choices. After a few weeks, maybe you begin to greet your farmers by name. You’ve become more rooted in place.

Connecting to Our Roots

Another great way to develop personal connections to your food is through a community supported agriculture (CSA) share. You pay at the beginning of the season and receive a weekly share of produce from a local farm. Since most CSA farmers don’t let customers choose what they’re receiving, it’s likely you’ll get some produce you’re unfamiliar with.

What the heck do you do with kohlrabi? How do you prepare fava beans? When you’ve made a personal connection with your farmer or even other CSA members, you’re more likely to consult them instead of Google. Who knows, you might end up being gifted with an old family recipe that your farmer has been passing around for decades in an attempt to spread the gospel of the mysterious kohlrabi. Maybe you’ll be inspired to visit the farm you get your food from to see what it looks like in the field.

Choosing Connections

Inspiration isn’t hard to come by in the world of urban agriculture. Young farmers are changing the food system around the world, finding ways to blend activism and equality with dinner and lunch. There is no shortage of ways to connect to our food and to each other. We just have to choose to do it.

By Lettie Stratton. Lettie is a writer and urban farmer in Boise, ID. She is a co-founder of Hoot ‘n’ Holler Urban Farm.