Land Access

3 Dec

I wrote this blog post this summer while in Minneapolis. It sat unfinished and unnoticed until today.

I attended the Land Access sub-committee meeting of Homegrown Minneapolis. In its 3rd meeting, they are starting to address the questions of how and who can get land. Some of the points raised in the meeting allow me to talk about some issues that I have wanted to cover but have not yet addressed.

Issues of privilege and discrimination affect gardening and urban farming in ways not always recognized. With the current trend in urban farming it is easy for people to forget the long history of growing food in cities. For decades people have gardened as a way to bring down grocery costs. This was often done in community gardens in low income neighborhoods. These communities have long struggled with city policy makers who have not been welcoming of the gardens. Often the city finds a “higher use” for the land that has a community garden and so takes it away. In communities without access to traditional levers of power efforts to stop the change are not usually successful.

Fast forward to the present day where white, often college educated people have”discovered” the glories of urban farming. Because they do not face the same levels of discrimination and have more privilege than people of color, their ideas have received more traction. This brings me to a question that was central to the conversations happening at the Land Access meeting. How can the recent surge in interest in urban farming result in equitable access to urban agriculture?

Loose networks of acquaintances and relationships can help someone find land. Maybe it’s a friend of a friend who owns a commercial building with an unused back area that is suitable for farming. Or maybe it’s a friend who is high up in the park department and helps you get through a request for a community garden. Either way issues of race and class are relevant here. Whites are more likely to own land and thus able to lend some of it out to a friend. Whites disproportionately have positions of power within organizations. To create an equitable urban farming and gardening community these issues must be dealt with explicitly. The solutions and actions taken by the committee must work to break down historic racial and class barriers to access.  (For further discussions of race and food systems look at the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network. Malik Kenyatta Yakini, the founder, has written and spoken eloquently about this)

     One solution presented was a catalog of city own vacant land that could be used for urban agriculture. This allows someone looking for land easy access to many options without resorting to personal connections. This is a great idea. It turns it already exists. Since no one at the meeting had heard of it, outreach clearly needs to be done.

     Another important issue is land tenure. Many urban farms do not have long term control of the land. One worry is that a network of community gardens helps build community and stabilize the neighborhood, so people move in and the increase in land value convinces the city or privately owned landowner to sell the land on which the community garden sits. In essence, an act of community building end up displacing the relevant community.

Though this blog has some unfinished thought (which I will finish later), I thought I would end with a timely example of the struggles of not having sufficient land tenure. The land on which Cherry Tree House Mushrooms has been farming has been sold and so Jeremy has to move immediately. He needs volunteers to help him move the operation from Dec 4th through the 8th. If you can help, please let him know

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