Urban agriculture is growing around the country, partly in response to increasing rates of diabetes and obesity. Heifer International (www.heifer.org) is working in neighborhoods like Brooklyn's East New York and Red Hook, where the obesity rate is 30 percent, double New York City's 15 percent. Many families live well below the poverty line, and because Red Hook has extremely limited public transportation, it's economically isolated. There are fast-food joints but no grocery stores, the local bodegas sell almost all processed foods, and there has been no access to high-quality produce.
But these days, several vacant lots—where buildings burned down because of gang activity and drug dealing—host vegetable gardens and farmers' markets. Added Value, a project in Red Hook, farms more than 2 acres, all raised beds on pavement. The farm employs at least 20 youths and produces anywhere from 4,000 to 8,000 pounds of produce a season.
These projects help communities re-envision and contribute to their local food system. The hope is that they can eventually provide 10 percent to 20 percent of the food they consume.
I think this is the beginning of a broad movement in social justice. It is critical for people to understand that food is what connects us, regardless of economic status, ethnic background, political orientation, or skin color. People need to get back to the understanding that food is a basic human right and need. Food has an important community and family aspect. Food connects us to both our nutritional and social needs.
—Alison Cohen, Heifer International