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As you may know, a group of us have been participating in a blogathone to raise awareness about hunger in America, and about a program sponsored by Feeding America wherein your donation of a paltry Thirty Six Dollars can feed a child for the entire summer.

There have been a number of absolutely terrific diaries on this subject this weekend, thanks to the arganizing skill and cheerleading of our beloved noweasels, but I'm going to take a minor detour to close this series, because I believe that producing our own food locally is the clear path towards solving our increasing food poverty.

Locally grown food has become much more popular in recent years, and the health benefits of organic produce are unquestionably greater than mass-produced chemically enhanced corporate food. More stores are looking for locally produced vegetables and proteins to sell, and more shoppers are looking for healthier alternatives for their diets. Despite these trends, sales of locally grown organic food are lagging in traditional low-income urban markets, due to factors including high prices, lack of access to quality product and unfamiliarity with the benefits of organic produce. In addition, those in low-income situations who rely on meal programs and hunger centers for food have little to no access to a steady supply of fresh-grown vegetables for their daily diet.

Following are three models where folks are bucking the corporate food trend, and feeding the masses sustainably:

Growing Power

Best known of these programs is Growing Power, a 1.8 acre complex in midtown Milwaukee, Wisconsin that, since 1995, has been feeding the local population organic produce and fish. After a brief career in professional basketball and a number of years in corporate marketing at Procter and Gamble, Growing Power CEO Will Allen returned to his roots as a farmer, following in the footsteps that his sharecropper father has placed before him. He joined forces with Growing Power, a Milwaukee organization that wanted to teach teens job skills and empowerment strategies. According to the Growing Power website, "Will designed a program that offered teens an opportunity to work at his store and renovate the greenhouses to grow food for their community.  
"What started as a simple partnership to change the landscape of the north side of Milwaukee has blossomed into a national and global commitment to sustainable food systems. Since its inception, Growing Power has served as a ”living museum” or “idea factory” for the young, the elderly, farmers, producers, and other professionals ranging from USDA personnel to urban planners.  Training areas include the following: acid-digestion, anaerobic digestion for food waste, bio-phyto remediation and soil health, aquaculture closed-loop systems, vermiculture, small and large scale composting, urban agriculture, perma-culture, food distribution, marketing, value-added product development, youth development, community engagement, participatory leadership development, and project planning" These classes are taught to urban growers throughout the country, empowering other to start their own collectives and neighborhood gardens.

Greensgrow

While a former galvanized steel plant isn't the first space that you might think about growing fresh, organic produce, but at Greensgrow, that's exactly what they're doing. According you their website, "on a chilly cloudy day in March 1998, Mary Seton Corboy and Tom Sereduk pushed back the broken gates to an abandoned lot in the Kensington section of Philadelphia. Without knowing it, they were firing the opening salvo in the urban agriculture movement. Ten years later Greensgrow stands as a testament to hard work and harder heads. What was once a dilapidated industrial site is today an active vibrant Farm Stand and Nursery."
"At Greensgrow we are dedicated to promoting social entrepreneurship through the reuse of land once deemed useless. In the process we are reconnecting city dwellers with rural food producers and promoting the greening of Philadelphia's homes and gardens. Greensgrow's non profit Philadelphia Project brings green ideas to life while Greensgrow Farm Inc brings food and flowers to our neighbors. Together we are building a better, more progressive and sustainable Philadelphia."
Greensgrow also operates a Community Supported Agriculture cooperative (CSA) which distributes food on a weekly basis to shareholders. Each share costs $775 for the 24-week-long season ($575 for those who agree to also work at the cooperative throughout the season). For your money you receive a weekly portion of food including "a seasonal assortment (4-7 items) of locally grown, freshly picked fruits and vegetables from our urban farm and the rural farms we work with. A locally-produced cheese or dairy product -- some favorites include Garlic Cheddar, Fresh Chevre, and handmade Fresh Mozzarella -- and a meat or pasta.  (Or our vegetarian option.)  Our meats are all humanely raised on local, grass-based farms.  Pastas and vegetarian items such as tofu and seitan are all locally produced.

The Cleveland Greenhouse Project

So in the last six months, many readers may know that I've been pursuing my own variation on these programs. I'm pleased to announce that the Cleveland Greenhouse Project is now well on its way to becoming a reality.
As I wrote here on dailykos last month and on our facebook group page, "the goal of the Cleveland Greenhouse Project is to build a large greenhouse, aquaponic system and composting station in order to sell locally-grown organic vegetables at low cost to urban families, employ local residents and teach sustainability and earth science to young people. The CGP plans to purchase a large, one-story warehouse within Cleveland city limits, preferably on a main corridor for access to public transportation and to maximize public visibility. The main floor of the warehouse would house a large composting facility and aquaponic tank, and we would add a large multi-level greenhouse on the roof where we would grow a large variety of vegetables and herbs. We would work with local retailers to determine which vegetables are in greatest demand while keeping an emphasis on plants that produce vegetables and fruit year-round, to maintain a supply of fresh produce through the winter months.

Food produced by the facility would be sold primarily at small urban groceries, through the City Fresh program and at an on-site store. We would also provide vegetables to local restaurants; and donate a portion of the weekly crop to the Cleveland Food Bank and area soup kitchens and meal programs.

The facility would rely on solar and wind power, and heating in the winter would come from the composting station. Thus, the facility would essentially be “off the grid” with the exception of water and sewer. The composting station would be a large vermiform (worm) composting operation, converting organic material into loam, which would be used in the vegetable beds in the greenhouse. The aquaponic tanks would be used to irrigate the plants growing in the greenhouse while also raising large amounts of chemical- and mercury-free fresh water fish (Tilapia and Yellow Perch), which would enrich the water and create an additional organic food to distribute."

We've been meeting with members of the local community and identifying experts who will join the team once funding starts to come in. We're also beginning to study local real estate options and I met with a member of the local County Land Bank to talk about potential sites. We'll be meeting next Thursday to talk about our next steps -- and to get everyone involved into one room for the first time, and funding is already becoming available for some of our projects, so we're getting more and more excited about the project as the days move onward.

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Lao Tzu said, "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach him how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime." It's my hope that we can start teaching our people to feed themselves, by growing their own food and helping to provide for each other. As sally lambert said in a diary a few months ago (and which I use for my sigline), "Be good to each other, love and serve and feed everyone. Because they are you."

The Feeding America Blogathon Rollcall:

Saturday (10 am EST): noweasels
Saturday (1 pm EST): TheFatLadySings
Saturday (4 pm EST): boatsie
Saturday (7 pm EST): Patriot Daily News Clearinghouse
Saturday (10 pm EST): Hardhat Democrat
Saturday (midnight overnight): jellybeardemmom

Sunday (10 am EST): rb137
Sunday (1 pm EST): Norbrook
Sunday (7 pm EST): blue jersey mom
Sunday (10 pm EST): Timroff -- You Are Here!

Originally posted to Timroff on Sun May 10, 2009 at 06:57 PM PDT.

Also republished by DK Feeding America.

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