As an environmental advocate, I am an avid supporter of the local food movement. Here in Fort Wayne, Indiana, more and more citizens are becoming involved in community gardening, urban gardening, backyard gardening and learning about ways to bring local foods to their tables.
I became even more aware of this after an interview with Catherine Lee, executive director of the Cinema Center in Fort Wayne. She told me that after the showing of Food, Inc, their movie talk included over a hundred people who were strongly vocal in bringing more knowledge about local food to our community.
Because of this interest, I thought it would be advantageous to reach out to the Managing Editor of Civil Eats, Paula Crossfield. Crossfield is an avid rooftop gardener in New York, and has much to offer in suggesting ways to bring communities together when it comes to growing, sharing, and eating local foods!
ABS) What is the overall mission of Civil Eats?
PC) Civil Eats promotes critical thought about sustainable agriculture and food systems as part of building economically and socially just communities. We also seek to engage people about where their food comes from, and inspire our readers to get involved in food projects where they live.
ABS) How did your interest in the local food movement begin?
PC) Cooking. I started getting a weekly CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) box from a farm in upstate New York about five years ago, and each week there was something new, like a rutabaga or quince, or just repeats like kale, that forced me to get creative in the kitchen. I got to know what was in season, and then started shopping often at the farmers market, and now I cook about five days per week. All of this cooking made me think about the fact that not everyone has the time, money or access to do this, so I began writing about the barriers and the benefits.
ABS) Last year, The Cinema Center, here in Fort Wayne, Indiana presented Food, Inc and there was a large audience for the film. There is a large group of local food activist in this community. What would you say is the best single way to bring them together?
PC) Garden together, cook together, eat together! And hold more events like that one. Food is one of the best ways to bring together a community because it is essential and promotes sharing. When you cook or bake something, it is ingrained in us to want to let someone else taste our creation.
ABS) Besides the obvious benefit of getting fresh local food from your rooftop garden, what other environmental benefits are obtained from having a rooftop garden?
PC) What I grow in the garden acts as a supplement to my diet. I could never grow enough to stop getting my CSA box, simply because there is not enough room. I grow onions and shallots, tomatoes, some root vegetables, strawberries, blueberries, kale and greens. My favorite thing to grow though is herbs, because when fresh cut they add so much flavor to a dish. But one of the things I like most about growing food is giving it away to other people in my building. And also having a green space on the roof where I can have dinners overlooking the Manhattan skyline. One of the benefits to the city is decreased storm water runoff, which New York currently pays fines for each time it rains. They have incentivized green roofs for that reason.
ABS) What question would you set forth to a community that wants to spur more involvement in local food gardening?
PC) In the city, encourage your policy makers to do an assessment of the vacant land and challenge them to think about allowing it to be gardened. Community gardens add so much to a neighborhood besides food access. They are places of respite and beauty, places to meet neighbors, places to hold events. For towns and suburbs, people should consider gardening in their own back yards. Most suburban neighborhoods have been built on fertile farm land, and growing a kitchen garden can save you lots of money on your grocery bill.
The inclusive thought of gardening together, cooking together, and eating together could not help but bring neighbors together. Perhaps, this concept can lead our communities to better ways to not only go green, but go local!