Monday, September 14, 2009

The Bad Seed

Celebrating Local Food, Culture, and Community

There has always been city farming in America's history. (See Urban Arcadia: Introduction and Urban Arcadia: Part 1).  Indeed, urban agriculture has served many purposes: food security, culture transmission, education, and even binding society in times of need.

At work in the Bad Seed Farm

Driving my own home town of Kansas City, Missouri, I am struck by the lack of healthy food sources in the city's core.  What few grocery stores are present have been the target of local news investigations for sub standard facilties, food care safety, & general low quality foods.  My observations are shared by others - throughtout the country, academic research and government reports seek to gain a greater understanding of what has been coined a "food desert." According to Dr. Larsen, of the Urban Development Program at the University of West Ontario, a food desert is "a socially distressed neighborhood with relatively low average household incomes and poor access to healthy and affordable food." Food deserts are also often served by a surplus of convenience stores and fast food restaurants.  For an example within the United States, please see this Chicago Mag article on the Chicago food desert. (See also USDA report on food deserts).  I believe this to be both a key environmental justice issue as well as a basic public health concern in city cores which mainly house minorities and lower income resident as well as a compunding factor in health disparities between racial, ethnic and socioeconomic groups. See the Tulane University School of Public Health Prevention Research Center for a comprehensive list of reports, articles and research.  In response, city farming has presented itself as a sustainable, affordable, and healthy alternative to our urban neighbors.

The Bad Seed Farm, Kansas City, Missouri

As we consider not only the availability of quality foodstuffs but also food security in recent times of economic distress, the city farm movement is growing across the country. In my area, the Kansas City Center for Urban Agriculture is working to promote small-scale, community-based, entrepreneurial farming in the Kansas City metropolitan area.  The KCCUA sponors 3 programs:  Kansas City Community Farms, Urban Farmer Development, & Juniper Gardens Farm Business Development. Kansas City is today has over 50 small plot urban farms throughout the metropolitian area.

The Bad Seed grows organic produce on an urban farm

One of those KC farms is the The Bad Seed Farm & Market.  Ironically named, the Bad Seed has become the focus of urban farming and zoning laws in Kansas City both locally (Kansas City Star Article) and nationally (Huffington Post).  The debate has spreads across the internet in thoughtful blogs and news websites (Civil Eats and Urban Tilth).  Unlike their inner city cousins, the Bad Seed is situated in a suburban location.  So, here, it is concern over the sights and sounds of a small farm theoretically disrupting the suburban ideal of manicured lawns with the occasional tasteful swingset and bar-b-gue grill.  Though not addressing critical urban issues of vacant lots, polluted soils, and potential income in poverty stricken areas, the Bad Seed controversy highlights the social boundaries of American urban and peri-urban settlement patterns.

Owners of the Bad Seed Farm: Brooke Salvaggio and Daniel Heryer

Despite, or perhaps in reaction to, zoning issues like the Bad Seed, Kansas City government is turning more attention to the issue of urban agriculture.  The Kansas City Climate Protection Plan includes policies to promote urban agriculture as a way of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.  The Bad Seed Farm may have found a friend in Councilman John Sharp, who’s not enthusiastic about backyard livestock but supports the concept of urban gardening. “Truck gardening is clearly a term that brings up images of hauling vegetables and fruits from a single-home residence,” said Sharp, who thinks zoning laws may need a tweak.“This will take some getting used to by folks who aren’t used to seeing this in urban areas.”

Photos and quote (Kansas City Star, 09/01/09)

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