Tapping Into The Power of Community

We know that communities connect individuals. However, those individuals often go unnoticed and unrecognized.

Communities, and the people who build them, are garnering more attention these days. Yes, even president Obama was at one time a community organizer, but the trend goes deeper than that.

Front Porch Forum digitally connects members of a community.

The way communities have come together has traditionally been around public meeting spots, over the fence and at PTA meetings. Today, there is a new kind of community organizer.

Building Community Online

Meet Valerie and Michael Wood-Lewis, CEO and co-founder of front porch forum.com. Back in 2000, they wanted to meet and get to know our own neighbors in Burlington, Vermont. They took their idea online and started front porch forum, an easy and safe way for neighbors to communicate with each other.

People report feeling more connected to neighbors, and to the local goings on in their community. The effect is contagious and people become more active in organizing group events, volunteering, and even voting on local ballot measures. People in Burlington are realizing just how much they’ve been missing.

Underground Food Markets

In San Francisco Iso Rabins had been frustrated by his inability to get a booth at legit farmers markets. Most farmers markets require that you be certified as the “primary producer” of the food you sell. Wild foraged food grows on its own, so technically there’s no producer. This, combined with the abundance of delicious food being made in Bay Area home kitchens, gave him an idea.

San Francisco's Underground Market.

In 2009, he started San Francisco’s Underground Market.  Soon the market became a hit among foodies and young urbanites. San Francisco’s hip, young food entrepreneurs finally had a place to experiment and test their culinary talents on a discerning crowd.

The word got out and the event swelled to accommodate the hundreds and soon thousands of people who would line up to attend.

People like Jaynelle St. Jean – PieTisserie (AKA Pie Lady) got her start there in 2010. Until, early this summer when the San Francisco Health Department put a halt to the SFUM.

Shareable Food

The new foodie phenomenon is shareable food; there’s community meal sharing, potlucks, gift-economy restaurants, community food growing projects, food swap events, pop-up stores, stone soup gatherings, food-buying cooperatives, goat-sharing, chicken cooperatives, and events like The Big Lunch.

And for chefs who want to connect with foodies and organize community food events there’s Grubly, Munchery, Gobble, and EatWithMe.

Entrepreneurs are seeing the potential and have created new venues for food production and food sharing. La Cocina in San Francisco is a shared commercial kitchen, that serves to reduce the barrier to entry for small want-to-be-chefs.

Marketplaces create a space for entrepreneurs to get their products out there; and marketing cooperatives can help entrepreneurs aggregate and sell their products. These community-based solutions give entrepreneurs access to spaces and customers that are normally out of reach due to high rents and space availability.

Los Angeles Food Swap

Food Trading

The plethora of micro-local produce and food products is astounding.

In Boston, Massachusetts a site called, MAfoodtrader.org allows the greater Boston community access to local homemade breads, fresh eggs, cheese, nuts, fruit, kombucha starter, honey, CSA meat, fish, dried grains and beans. Some non-food items like homemade soaps, and even home-brew are up for trade.

Buying Local Fosters Community Building

Local businesses who provide services and products are most sustainable when their community supports them. This is how communities grow and thrive, especially in an uncertain economy that has become the “new norm”.

If you are interested in helping break down the legal barriers to small food enterprises in your community, you can support cottage food laws which have already been passed in half of the U.S. states. Some Bay Area cities such as, San Francisco, Berkeley, and Oakland have recently done this or are currently considering it.

Food trading
Frugal Foodies

Thanks to Janelle Orsi for her well researched and written article, The Shareable Food Movement Meets the Law.


Urban Agriculture Becoming Integral to Urban Planning

Edmonton, Alberta, is about to integrate urban agriculture into their urban planning process. Yes, we’re talking Canada people.

And you thought that urban ag was just relegated to cities like Portland, Seattle, Detroit and Santa Cruz. Cheeeeeze!

The Edmonton city council is planning to grow urban agriculture from the ground up, due to a strong demand from its citizens. Areni Kellepan of the Sustainable Food Edmonton, says there is a desire from citizens to get into urban farming.

The natural landscape lends itself to food production because Edmonton contains large areas of rich agricultural lands within its civic boundaries.  Many organizations and initiatives related to food and agriculture are flourishing there. This is partly due to the influence of the University of Alberta and Alberta Research Council which has helped to create a culture that is pro-agriculture.

“The Way We Grow” – The Municipal Development Plan (MDP), is the City’s strategic growth and development plan.

The Way We Grow Goals:

  • Support the establishment of a food policy council
  • Work with the community to create a local food charter
  • Work with the region to develop a regional food policy council and food charter
  • Collaborate with communities, landowners and other organizations to identify potential areas and lands for urban agricultural activities
  • Establish guidelines for integrating urban agriculture into public and private spaces and developments

The city and its people have high aspirations. They hope to explore various forms of food production and urban agricultural activities. They include; market gardening, commercial farming, community gardens, allotment gardens, vertical gardens, backyard gardens, edible landscaping, roof top gardens, fish farming, animal raising (not including stock yards or feedlots) and bee keeping. Some of these activities already occur, others could be considered in the future.

Holistic Approach to Urban Planning

What’s different about Edmonton’s approach is that they aren’t doing what most cities do – trying to change the policies through countless amendments and ballot processes to a city policy that is out of balance with the needs of its people. The City of Edmonton is aligning its strategic planning processes to ensure an integrated and holistic approach toward city building over the next three decades. The purpose of the policy is to guide city planning and community design to support local agriculture and diversify the local economy. This is forward thinking at its best.

“There’s lots of farming communities, and farming families that have moved into the city that would love to have a place to grow food again,” says Kellepan. “I think [urban agriculture] is very important for the citizens of Edmonton. They’ve expressed the interest.”

Challenges of New Urbanism

Even though the people of Edmonton have a sincere interest in growing their own food, a challenge will be finding the time needed to take care of a garden in the city. “People in the city generally have [other] jobs that they have to go to,” he says. “Their time is more limited.”

For some it’s more an issue of not knowing how to grow a garden. Mayor Mandel emphasized the need to teach people, including himself. “I don’t know how to grow things. I wouldn’t mind going to someplace and someone showing me the best way to do this, and how to have the better kinds of crops that you can have in a small garden in your backyard,” says Mandel.

This situation, where the interest in self-reliance, DIY-culture and urban agriculture is high but, the people lack the knowledge is prevalent throughout the United States. Cities like Edmonton have listened to their citizens interest and are changing the way government works to aid this evolution.

This summer the city is looking to get feedback on the initiatives that will help to create a policy that works for everyone and raise awareness for urban agriculture. “If [people] are interested, through their awareness, then they will want to learn more about it and then they can make a decision on whether they want to create an opportunity in their backyard or how they want to get involved on a more broad base.”

I applaud Edmonton’s forward thinking and will be interested to see how an urban policy that embraces the citizen’s desire for local and sustainable practices will serve its people in the years to come.

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