As FOG’s Education and Outreach Coordinator, part of my interest is to contribute to developing a strong local food system. What does this mean? First, allow me to say that it is telling of how far removed from the source of our food we have collectively become that we need to use and define terms like “food system.” Simply put, a food system is how we obtain our daily bread. This includes the phases of growing, processing, packaging, and distribution.
Like many other aspects of our modern world, our food system has largely become industrialized and globalized. That is, the production and distribution processes rely on energy-intensive practices and a worldwide network of growers and distributors. While the technological advancements we see around us are amazing, there is a price to pay, particularly when it comes to food.
Although there are benefits of a globalized, industrialized food system, like eating tropical fruits out of season from around the world, there are also many costs. Costs to nutrition, the environment, economy, and equality. With a global network of food producers and distributors, how can it be that many people now have less access to fresh, nutritious foods than in previous generations?
The answer lies in the centralization of food production and distribution. Depending on access to these markets, physically and economically (or a lack thereof), community members may be left languishing in a food desert. A food desert is an area defined by the absence of access to fresh, whole foods. For those of us living in Gainesville, we don’t have to look far. Much of Gainesville (see map) is considered a Food Desert according to US Department of Agriculture statistics (shown as blue areas) defined as low-income Census tracts where a significant number or share of residents is more than 1 mile (urban) or 10 miles (rural) from the nearest supermarket[i]. One solution for addressing food deserts is to increase food production through community gardens. This increases access to fresh foods by growing them where they are eaten, condensing the food system to the local or even neighborhood scale. In addition to improved access, community gardens provide many ancillary benefits as well, such as increased public green spaces, community engagement, and fostering intergenerational interaction and learning.
In 2010, FOG produced a report detailing a Local Food Action Plan for Gainesville and Alachua County, funded through the USDA Community Food Projects Competitive Grants Program and the Lydia B. Stokes Foundation[ii]. As part of a larger strategy to address the number one recommendation in the Plan, to increase food security by increasing food production, a three-pronged approach is presented, including:
- Develop centralized urban garden network that will increase access to information, education and resources for gardeners.
- Develop neighborhood-based gardening groups to facilitate easier access to information, education and resources.
- Select targeted low-income neighborhoods, schools and/or faith-based organizations to focus on improved gardening capabilities.
Recently, FOG has partnered with the freshly established Fred Cone Park Community Garden to commence an organic Learning Garden, with the financial support of Lucky’s Market, geared specifically towards youth age 5 – 12. It is our desire that this Learning Garden will play a part in addressing the goals outlined above to develop a strong and vibrant local food system in Gainesville and Alachua County. Specifically, we seek to engage youth in organic gardening, reinforce school curriculum related to ecology and biology, teach financial and economic literacy, and share effective communication practices. We hope that the “FOG Learning Garden” will contribute to a robust network of gardens in the neighborhoods of East Gainesville with the support and engagement of community partners like the Greater Duval Community Garden, Eastside High School Institute of Culinary Arts, UF/IFAS Extension Family Nutrition Program, and others. This network will bring greater accessibility to fresh food that is both affordable and familiar to community members. In a world full of seemingly endless problems, community gardens offer a suite of solutions for the challenges facing our youth and communities.
For a list of community gardens in Gainesville, please visit the Community Gardens page of the City of Gainesville Parks, Recreation & Cultural Affairs website. Grow Gainesville offers another great resource for community gardens and available local food. They also have an active Facebook page dedicated to discussions related to food production in Gainesville.
–Tyler Nesbit is FOG’s Education & Outreach Coordinator. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
[ii] Florida Certified Organic Growers and Consumers, Inc. 2010. “Community Vision for Food System Development in Gainesville-Alachua County: A Local Food Action Plan” (Available online: http://www.foginfo.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/FOGLFAP2010.pdf)