Growing Community Food Systems by Erika Allen

The idea of a community food system is much larger than just urban farming. It deals with everything, all the components that are needed to establish, maintain, and perpetually sustain a civilization.

Urban farming is key in the reclamation of an Earth and ecology-based value system, and it plays an important role: We need urban food production, communities growing food in an urban environment. But with a community food system, neighborhood stakeholders are the ones growing that food, moving it around, and in control of land tenure or wherever soil-, food-, and Earthbased materials are being grown. Basically we are talking about sovereignty, about having land and water rights.

This is not a new concept; indigenous communities globally struggle with powerful external entities that attempt to extract raw and refined resources from land that has traditionally been stewarded by families who understand the natural laws of replenishment and proper natural-resource management. In a locally-operated food system we engage all members of the community, taking special care to engage the most marginalized members and those most impacted by food and land degradation. We begin with simple questions:

“Where are you going to get water from, and how are you getting the water?” “Who makes the decision about how land—open space and commercial space—is being used?”

These simple questions activate civic and civil rights and accountability with government, because there are always regulatory issues and agendas that (as is often revealed) community members are unaware of and have not been included in the conversations. So true sustainability in terms of community food systems means that disenfranchised people, especially youth and their families, are involved in the process not only as beneficiaries of “good (and carbon-neutral) food” but as central participants in the planning, development, and execution of the food system, including its interlocking
parts: energy, housing, public transportation, economic development, and so on. You’re building a whole infrastructure that supports local food systems.

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