Growing food locally is the first part of building a Sustainable Food System. Having food on your plate that didn’t travel a couple thousand miles to be there is one major benefit to local production. The food is fresher, more nutritious, and we think it just tastes better. But there is even more to it. Local food production boosts the economy and, particularly within urban spaces, provides an unparalleled opportunity for education, cultural preservation, and community building. In addition, a city that is capable of feeding itself is a resilient city. A resilient city is not dependent on other places to provide for it. A resilient city is ready and able to bounce back from disaster.
However, Austin and Travis County face many challenges to local food production. On average, 9.3 acres of farmland are lost each day in Travis County, with a 25% loss over 11 years. The average age of farmers is 62 and the average annual income for farm labor is only $11, 617.
So, what is Austin doing to improve this? Well, according to the City’s “State of the Food System,” report, the City has made great efforts to create proper zoning for urban agriculture and has adopted an Urban Farm Ordinance to provide guidance to urban farmers for what and where they can produce within the city. This ordinance is valuable in protecting both communities and the farmers themselves. The Sustainable Food Policy Council has contributed recommendations to the CodeNEXT initiative, a city-wide revision of Austin’s Land Development Code. This will impact all aspects of urban agriculture in Austin, from land preservation and production to consumption and waste management.
The Sustainable Urban Agriculture and Community Gardens Program, based out of the Parks and Recreation Department, supports and streamlines the process for building community gardens on city-owned land. Additionally, 82% of AISD schools have a teaching garden, which engages students in the food system. Also, the Public Works Department and the Watershed Protection Department have their own programs that have supported urban agriculture projects throughout the city.
It is clear that the City of Austin is both an advocate and a supporter of urban agriculture and makes contributing efforts to increase local production. Despite these efforts, however, less than 1% of the food consumed in Austin is grown locally. The city cannot be expected to do this on their own nor can they be expected to lead the charge. Having the support of local government in these initiatives is a necessity. But it is up to other groups and organizations, both public and private, to make the goal of a Sustainable Food System a reality.
Therefore, urban farming is at the core of our mission at Lettuce. We create new farmland in urban spaces, looking at vacant land and seeing opportunity. Why grow grass when you can grow food? Food for your family, for your neighbor, or others in the city. Farming as an occupation is aging. That is why we are creating good, well-paying jobs for a new generation of young farmers. Ready to take on the challenges of growing populations, limited land and resources, and climatic challenges that haven’t been faced before. We build farms at schools to utilize unused space and engage children, not just in gardening, but in farming and production! Our Mini-Farm and Urban Farm Kit service provide Austin residents with the opportunity to not only have a growing space at their home but to be part of a network of growers that, when combined, will grow that 1% of local production to an even greater number!
Increasing the amount of food grown locally is the first major step in building a Sustainable Food System, but it is only one part of it. In the next part of this series, we will discuss Selling Food. In the meantime, you can further explore the many ways Lettuce is increasing local production and how you can be part of this effort on our website.
Lettuce grow together!