Change Your Food, Change Your Life. Grow Your Food, Save Your Life
The FabFoto/Smart Quote Returns – “Change Your Food, Change Your Life!”
I recently had the pleasure of running into Chad Helmer and Donna Taggart of Taggart Associates at the corner of 7th and Hamilton streets in Allentown, last week after the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation’s Conversation & Cocktails event featuring, Dennis Davin, the secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED).
They told me how much they missed RenewLV’s FabFoto/Smart Quote feature…so by popular demand, this week we are bringing it back!
Today we offer you a super quote from Ron Finley, guerrilla gardener with The Ron Finley Project. You may know about this Los Angeles-based activist from an influential TED talk that went viral. His language is sometimes a little edgy, but his example is very inspiring.
Ron proves that growing food in urban neighborhoods can be tranformational to the neighbors and the neighborhood. One of the biggest obstacles to growing your own food in the city is space. Finley’s “guerilla gardening” efforts started with the organization L.A. Green Grounds around 2013 when he installed a vegetable garden on the 150 x 10 foot patch of ground in front of his house. He lived in an urban area that had suffered economic decline and the citizens were sick. He was tired of “seeing wheelchairs bought and sold like used cars, tired of seeing drop-in dialysis centers popping up like Starbucks and tired of driving a 45-minute round trip to get an apple that was not impregnated with pesticide.”
Things got interesting for Ron. According to an article on TedBlog, the strip of land he planted was an area between the sidewalk and the street that is owned by the city but maintained by residents. He was issued a citation and told to remove the garden. This was followed up by a warrant for his arrest. He didn’t back down. Eventually, the city of Los Angeles backed off. After a couple years, the city changed its ordinance to allow for these urban gardens.
In an excerpt from a recent article at Co.Exist.com: The gardens help give neighborhoods control over their own food while building community. “It’s about being self-sustaining,” Finley says. “It’s about you changing your life and being responsible for your health, and for your community. It’s you taking a stand that this is mine. We’ve basically been enslaved by food companies, and they’re killing us slowly. There’s other means and other ways to supply food.”
What does this have to do with us in the Lehigh Valley? Well, we have a substantial “food security” problem. Our friends at the United Way of the Greater Lehigh Valley and Second Harvest Food Bank tell us that almost 70,000 people in our region of roughly 650,000 individuals (more than 10 percent) rely on the food bank monthly to eat. That’s a sobering statistic that indicates we all need to do more to end hunger in our region.
Donations to the food bank are needed and encouraged, but we consider a broader question toward self-reliance: We ask,”What role could urban agriculture – “growing your own” play in reducing or eliminating food insecurity — while improving the vitality, livability and quality of life in our neighborhoods?”
With urban agriculture, people with very little money can take the reins for improving and maintaining their own health. According to the Assessment Report: Lehigh Valley Local Food Economy, “The unequal distribution of food resources in the Lehigh Valley Have left some of its communities without access to fresh, health foods.” If you garden, you don’t need much money (free seeds are available from the America the Beautiful Fund for community gardening efforts and people with SNAP benefits can use them for seeds.) Ron Finley and others closer to home have showed us you don’t need much space to eat well and grow enough to share.
So, we thank Allentown resident, Liz Bradbury for providing us with today’s FabFoto. Liz, who snapped the picture of her pepper on the rooftop garden at her place with the PPL Tower in the background, has been using her Center City rooftop to garden for more than 20 years. She has planted extensive vegetable container gardens on the specially constructed roofs of small garages. This summer, a picture someone forwarded to us of her bounteous peach harvest called our attention to her efforts.
Liz is an example of an urban organic gardener. “We grow without pesticides or synthetic fertilizer in the rich compost provided free to Allentown residents at the City’s Oxford Drive Yard Waste Site,” says Liz. “This year we’re having garden dinners with tomatoes, butter beans, green peas, carrots, onions, shallots, leeks, Swiss chard, beets, romaine, radishes, lettuce, cucumbers, spinach, collards, green beans, all sorts of peppers, celery, eggplant, strawberries, grapes, peaches and many kinds of herbs,” Bradbury adds that sweet potatoes are their easiest and biggest crop.
Urban gardening can help turn a “block” into a community. Never before have we needed the neighborliness of gardeners to help strengthen the fabric of our urban communities as we do today. Urban gardening and the natural sharing of produce can be the way relationships are started and strengthened.
“We take turns watering other families’ gardens when they’re on vacation,” says Liz’s partner, Patricia Sullivan, who has been canning grape jelly and peach preserves for the last few weeks. “We’ve had a great time all summer going for long walks around the City, watching all the exciting changes, seeing all the people having fun downtown. Whenever we see someone from the neighborhood, we give them a jar of jelly or share some vegetables. We couldn’t manage the garden without the help of neighbors.”
To improve regional food security by expanding your sphere of garden generosity, when your garden is exploding with produce, please consider sharing your bounty with one of the Lehigh Valley’s food banks. They’re always in need of fresh produce. Enter your zip code here to find the food pantry or soup kitchen nearest to you. Then, any day when you have too many tomatoes or zuchinni (or in my case, kale) you can simply drop them off to benefit our region’s citizens in need.
No matter where you live, if you’re not already a gardener, consider starting a garden. Plant an extra row for those in need, and become a part of the national movement, Grow a Row to mobilize an end to food insecurity.
Remember, urban agriculture is a way to literally bring life to our cities and boroughs. You can be like Liz Bradbury and grow peppers on your roof. Or, you can be like Ron Finley with his experience in his Los Angeles neighborhood: “It’s walking outside your door and being greeted by hummingbirds and dragonflies and bees, and a green, healthy ecosystem that’s not in these communities—it doesn’t exist. I have birds that I’d never seen in my life before coming to my garden now. And you’re filtering the air. People walk by and see beautiful things, instead of just concrete.”
Together, we can change our lives, save our lives, change our neighborhoods and save our neighborhoods.
p.s. Thank you to Dan Poresky for the butterfly photo!