Increasing the Sustainable Production and Access of Fresh Produce in Urban Areas of NW Indiana
The act of growing and increasing the availability of fresh produce in an urban setting has recently become an important issue. As large grocery stores have moved out of urban areas, fresh produce availability has become more challenging and many vacant lots left behind are viewed as potential food production sites. As a result, urban agriculture has increased in importance due to the impacts on accessibility and affordability of fresh produce, the local population’s health, food equity, economic development, and job creation. In many urban communities, particularly densely populated neighborhoods, there is an increasing demand for sustainable fresh produce that is more accessible. Although there is mounting pressure for urban farmers to produce more food, there is a general lack of scientifically based information on the most efficient and effective ways to meet this demand. As such, there is a gaping need to train urban farmers in sustainable agriculture practices, form peer-topeer networks to share newly acquired knowledge and build marketing capacity within urban neighborhoods throughout the US to be able to produce and sell the fruits and vegetables that are needed.
In the city of Gary, in Northwest Indiana, a multi-stakeholder group, The Gary Food Council, was recently formed to focus on how the local food supply chain must function sustainably to increase access to fresh food for the city population. Within the city, there are only four large grocery stores that sell fresh produce for more than 75,000 people. In order to viably produce enough fresh fruits and vegetables in this urban area, it is important to provide programs to their urban farmers that allow them to gain the skills needed to be successful. This project will evaluate experiential learning activities to determine how effective they are for increasing production and knowledge gained by urban farmers in Gary. Activities include support for an urban agriculture certificate program, a tool sharing initiative for small-scale diversified farmers, the formation of a peer-to-peer networking group, and the development of a validated internship program with trained mentors. Trained urban farmers will also be linked with consumers to sell their local produce through community stores, markets, grocers, restaurants, institutions, and food banks. By working on both the supply and demand sides of the equation, urban farmers will be able to sustainably produce and market their fresh produce.
Project objectives from proposal:
The overall purpose is to evaluate experiential learning activities created to support urban farmers be successful at growing fresh produce in Northwest Indiana. Specifically, we will measure 1) knowledge, skills, and behavior gained by participants to create improved farming systems, 2) retention and utilization of knowledge and skills that improve efficiency, 3) influence of attitudes and engagement of peer to peer network on innovation on small-scale farming systems, 4) knowledge and skills gained by network participants to transform knowledge and innovation, 5) collaboration and engagement to develop the internship program, 6) knowledge, skills, and engagement of tool sharing program.