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The (Grass)Root of the Problem–and How to Help

November 2, 2010

With their latest panel installment, the Living Concrete/Carrot City public programming at the New School brought us the Politics of Urban Agriculture last Wednesday evening. The themes of the night predictably, yet appropriately, emphasized participation and organization.

Nancy Romer, General Coordinator of the Brooklyn Food Coalition and CUNY Psychology teacher, lauded urban gardening for resurrecting grassroots organizing and fighting the trend to leave politics up to the electoral process alone. She expressed a strong belief in urban ag’s ability to inspire and reverse the assumption that individuals lack power to make policy change. Romer’s psychology roots exposed themselves when she cited how growing food fulfills our “emotional, political, and environmental fix.”

Linda Goode-Bryant, a documentary filmmaker and Executive Director of the Active Citizen Project, works with her organization to install gardens in NYC with the ultimate intention of transferring all maintenance and ownership of the gardens to local community members. Inspired by the 2008 global food crisis, Goode-Bryant takes food security seriously–contrary to last week’s lecture (see previous post) that lauded the urban garden’s potential to raise surrounding property value, Goode-Bryant reads that potential as gentrification that forces less wealthy neighbors out . The ACP functions to keep the community in community gardening, fighting to keep the land in the hands of the people who want and need it most.

In an effort to represent farming on a larger scale, Marcel van Ooyen spoke next as Executive Director of GrowNYC, best known for running the NYC Greenmarket Farmers Markets. After briefly summarizing the city’s agricultural past (check out the NYC Green Guerilla Seed Bombs from the ’70s here!), von Ooyen highlighted food as an environmental as well as political question that deserves to be treated seriously by governing bodies. During the Q&A session van Ooyen expressed his desire for all city agencies to work together to identify unused or underused land in each of their portfolios that could be donated to farming and gardening–a recommendation others found unrealistic considering the potential monetary gains real estate might bring from the same property.

Finally, Tom Agnotti closed the discussion with his experiences as an Urban Affairs and Planning Professor at Hunter College and founder of Prospect Farm in Brooklyn. Agnotti recalled several missed opportunities for NYC to integrate agriculture into its master plans for development, beginning with the creation of our subway system that he claims was never intended to provide an eco-friendly transportation option as the city advertises it now. Instead, the subway only spurred land development and city farmers got pushed to the fringes. Agnotti remains hopeful, however, referring to “invisible famers” more than once as an indication that farming is a still strong, if not entirely obvious, part of the city. Agnotti wants to expand and collectivize invisible farming, even broadcast them in an effort to get food agriculture into the 2030 city plans.

PlaNYC 2030 became a hot topic during the Q&A and the audience members ended the evening by agreeing with the panelists on the need for politicians and developers to adopt food into their future NYC plans. I couldn’t agree more and want to sign off by listing a few things that you can do to make sure this happens–rumor has it that this could be more than a possibility with enough push!

1. Attend the last hearing and insist that food and urban ag should appear in NYC2030:

November 3, 6-8 pm
Frank Sinatra School for the Arts
Tony Bennett Concert Hall
35-12 35th Avenue, Astoria 11106

2. Can’t get to Queens? Cast a vote or two here: http://www.allourideas.org/planyc

3. Fill in this blank: One idea to create a greener, greater New York is to _______. and text it to 917-791-3064

4. In the spirit of grassroots organizing–invite your family, friends and start spreading the word!

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One Comment leave one →
  1. November 23, 2010 9:44 am

    Love live Carrot City!

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