Urban food systems face unique challenges. Urban farmers must compete with housing and retail developers for expensive land. Further, these lots have limited access to energy and water and are covered by restrictive zoning ordinances. Local governments often prioritize land use that generates property taxes through policy incentives. However, these farms have considerable value for urban communities. Urban agriculture reduces transportation emissions and sewer outflows, mitigates urban heat island effect, creates jobs, greens and beautifies urban spaces, reintroduces farming to youth and adults of color, generates amenity and property values and promotes social cohesion.
The research team is studying the role of social networks and social capital in urban food systems. Working with community partners in Buffalo, New York and Minneapolis, Minnesota, cities with strong community-led urban agriculture organizations, the researchers are studying current urban food systems policy networks for their organizing capabilities. The research is taking place mainly in areas that are historically communities of color. The team is also examining the divides between local government networks and urban food systems networks that limit urban agriculture.
Using this information, the community partners and researchers will work with urban growers, particularly growers of color, to develop cooperative strategies to engage with local government. These efforts include peer trainers with experience in engaging local governments, microgrants and developing urban farming tools that extend the growing season. After putting the strategies into action, researchers will evaluate their effectiveness in empowering growers’ engagement in building new social networks between growers and policymakers. Researchers will also determine whether these networks have resulted in projects and policies favorable to urban farming and growers’ capabilities.
The principal investigator, Dr. Samina Raja of University at Buffalo, notes that “Recent experiences with the COVID pandemic have illustrated the need for well-functioning urban food systems, which are supported by this grant. Design of such systems ought to be informed by experiences of community networks. We are excited to co-produce this research with our community leaders to grow urban agriculture policy from the ground up.”
Improved policy awareness helps urban growers better access land, water and resources. Ultimately, urban food systems and grower-policymaker networks lead to healthier, vibrant urban communities.
The interdisciplinary team of researchers includes, from the University of Buffalo, Prof. Martha Bohm, Dr. Emmanuel Frimpong Boamah and Raja; Dr. Fernando Burga of the University of Minnesota; and Dr. Yeeli Mui of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
Community-focused work in Buffalo is led by Allison DeHonney of Urban Fruits and Veggies, Diane Picard of Massachusetts Avenue Project and Rebekah Williams of Buffalo Food Equity Network. Darryl Lindsey of Appetite For Change leads the community-focused work in Minneapolis.
Image: Princess Ann Nelson and Chakayla Powell at Appetite for Change urban garden at Salem Evangelical Lutheran Church in Minneapolis. Courtesy of Appetite for Change.
Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research
The Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research (FFAR) builds public-private partnerships to fund bold research addressing big food and agriculture challenges. FFAR was established in the 2014 Farm Bill to increase public agriculture research investments, fill knowledge gaps and complement USDA’s research agenda. FFAR’s model matches federal funding from Congress with private funding, delivering a powerful return on taxpayer investment. Through collaboration and partnerships, FFAR advances actionable science benefiting farmers, consumers and the environment.
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