Debate about urban ag alliance revived

abelmanFood activist Michael Abelman’s appearance Feb. 16 at the 2013 Sustainable Agriculture Summit has reignited discussions about creating a Twin Cities urban agriculture alliance.

Abelman (pictured here) helped start the Sole Food Street Farms in urban Vancouver, an effort to employ disadvantaged persons on large-scale urban farming projects. He was a keynote speaker at the recent Agriculture Summit held by the Sustainable Farming Association of Minnesota (SFA) and the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum.

The idea of creating a metro-area alliance that would help designate and protect Twin Cities urban land for the purposes of farming and gardening – or an alliance that would have other purposes – has been a discussion topic since at least 2008. The framework of such an organization was debated, and a strategic plan was written. Leaders even secured foundation money to hire a coordinator. But when that foundation decided to direct the grant money elsewhere, the alliance idea floundered.

What the next step will be is uncertain, but SFA’s conference on Feb. 15 and 16 got people talking once again about what an alliance might do and, in the words of Gardening Matters co-founder Kirsten Saylor, whether local food activists should “step it up a little bit.”

What Abelman has suggested is a broad alliance that wouldn’t be limited to urban residents, but also include farmers, gardeners and experts in rural areas near the Twin Cities, as well as on the “urban fringe.” That would help connect food-minded urban folks with rural and semi-rural folks who have the farming and gardening expertise. He even suggested getting real-estate experts involved in the process, since securing urban land for agriculture – and making certain the soils aren’t contaminated – is a real challenge.

“It’s hard to enter that realm if you don’t know how to navigate it,” Abelman explained.

What will happen with the Twin Cities alliance idea remains uncertain, but Abelman said the issue is both important and timely, considering the worldwide questions about food security.

“It’s a great time to be doing this,” he said, “(but) you’re going to have to find your own way.”

Comments are closed.