• Sawyer Phillips

Food Insecurity And The Urban Garden Movement

by Sawyer Phillips

According to the USDA’s Economic Research Service, 87.3 percent of United States households experienced food insecurity through 2015. Many urban gardens and food forests around Massachusetts aim to provide some relief to families and individuals who struggle with providing their households with healthy food.

Matt Buchanan is a history teacher at Salem High School and the head organizer of Salem GreenSpace, a volunteer-run community garden. Salem GreenSpace started almost three years ago and is run almost entirely by student volunteers.

“The neighborhood we’re in is a low-income neighborhood with a lot of convenience stores…the garden uses all organic practices, and the [produce] is free,” says Buchanan.

Esther Hamidou moved to Salem with her family from France three years ago. She says that her family moved to Salem because of the racism they experienced in France, and it was hard to find opportunities there. Hamidou began working at Salem GreenSpace around the same time she moved to Salem. “At first I complained a lot about the work but [working in] the garden allowed a lot of low-income families get fresh fruits and vegetables,” she says.

Along with urban gardens, food forests are making an appearance around Massachusetts. Food forests or edible forest gardens are low-maintenance sustainable plant-based food systems that allow people to gather and harvest fruits and vegetables.

Help Yourself! is a project started by Felix Lufkin to plant edible plants, vegetables, and fruit trees in and around the Pioneer Valley of Western Massachusetts. Lufkin says that an urban food forest allows people from low-income neighborhoods to utilize land in their communities that otherwise are neglected.

“One of the biggest benefits of having food forests is that residents are allowed to use their own land to their own benefit,” says Lufkin

However, there is pushback from people living communities where urban gardens and food are developing around the nation. In an article titled "Frankly, Not About Food Forests" published on the online social justice publication Black Girl Dangerous, the author expresses their frustrations with the “trend” of food forests. The author claims that food forests are only “pseudo-solutions to limited food access” and only attract further gentrification in the neighborhoods that many social justice activists are trying to save.

Food insecurity is an issue that disproportionately affects people of color. One in five or 22 percent of African American households experience food insecurity compared to one in ten or ten percent of Caucasian households.

A study conducted by the Environmental Studies/Tishman Environment and Design Center at The New School shows that urban farming might reinforce inequalities that it aims to address. The study revealed that the farmers and farms that are being promoted and recognized are white in many cases. However, food insecurity is an issue that disproportionately affects people of color. The study also delves into the idea that white people dominate the alternative food movement and by people who dismiss racism as the underlying cause of food insecurity.

Buchanan says gentrification has crossed his mind while developing the project. “I’m a white guy, so I was thinking how this did not become an ‘I’m-gonna-come-save-you type project…so we get a lot of people from the neighborhood who come and harvest and work in the garden. Six out of nine of the [student] workers are people of color.”

Lufkin sees HelpYourself as less of a solution and more of a way to add some relief to those who are insecure, “The impact the project will have on food insecurity is a question of scale…is one tree going to make a difference in the whole city? No, but it will be a big difference even in the mental health of the people who harvest apples from this tree…”

Although urban gardens and food forests may not be the primary solution to food insecurity, there are still many emerging across the country. There are currently more than 18,000 urban gardens in North America, with many of them in Massachusetts.

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