Urban Farms: 3 reasons why they will change your life and the world

by TRS, Deputy AgitProp Minister of Occupy the Farm

I have been around farming my entire life. I grew up in a rural state where small scale family farming is commonplace and an integral part of local communities. My college had a working farm, complete with a campus CSA program. Ironically, it wasn’t until I moved to California that I began working on community farms and came to view farming as part of my ideal lifestyle as well as my political work. I have volunteered and spent time in dozens of community gardens and farms around California and lack of community support in terms of volunteers and donated resources seem to be one of the larger issues that limits the growth of these spaces.

There are countless factors that contribute to this, including issues of class and race, but I think that for somebody who hasn’t been a part of a community farm, it can be hard to understand how becoming involved will benefit them, their community and the planet. Decentralized food production must be thought of as part of multi-generational projects, huge processes like rebuilding topsoil, replanting forests, and detoxifying the soil, air and water, comprised of billions of small actions. Although I don’t think kale is going to save the world, I think individuals and radical social movements would greatly benefit from a greater involvement with urban farming, particularly as a form of direct action.

On the individual scale, there is a real and significant material benefit from decentralized agriculture. It is relatively simple to grow high yield crops (which already compose a large portion of people’s diets, i.e. greens, squash, potatoes, etc.) even in small spaces and even where there is only concrete or a fire escape. There are even more options for growing more obscure foods like purslane, chickweed, and plantain, “weeds” with high nutritional and often medicinal value, and that could already be growing in your backyard. It is possible to grow a significant portion of your own food with a minimal amount of space and time commitment. With the added infrastructure and space of community farms, the potential bounty grows; most community farms produce enough for their volunteers and their community. A couple of hours volunteering can provide you with week worth of fresh, local produce. In addition to nutritional and personal economic considerations, there is a long list of ways farming, gardening or just hanging out with plants are good for you: health benefits from physical activity, pollution remediation, and plant medicines, mental health benefits from better nutrition and exposure to plants, connecting with the natural world, expanding one’s personal skill set and resilience, et al.

Beyond immediate personal benefit, supporting urban farms directly benefits your comrades and community. It is becoming increasingly common for urban farms to distribute their produce to surrounding communities for free or by donation at weekly farm stands. In food deserts, farms can increase access to healthy food for communities ignored by the dominant food system. Groups like Food not Bombs and events like protests, book fairs and fundraisers are other possible outlets for urban farm produce. Gardens and farms can function as community green space that can host meetings, potlucks and activist events.

The dominant food system and agro-industrial model is fundamentally broken. The food we eat is toxic and the way we grow it is destroying the planet and poisoning humanity. The racism and classism inherent in this system causes a disproportionate impact on low-income communities, communities of color, and the global south/”third world”. While I do not believe that consumer politics have the ability to create substantial systemic changes, I do see value in reducing one’s participation and complicity in oppressive and environmentally destructive systems, and consider it to be a form of resistance.

Occupy the Farm emerged in 2012 to defend the Gill Tract in Albany, CA, a piece of historic farmland owned by UC Berkeley, from development. Through a diversity of tactics, including direct action occupation the group won access to farm 1.5 acres of the 20 acre parcel and to begin to implement our vision. The Gill Tract Community Farm thrives and has become an open air laboratory and classroom as well as a functioning farm that has given away 1000s of pounds of free produce to volunteers, the local community, and activist groups. The farm also supports our continued resistance to the planned development of the rest of the Gill Tract, not just by providing food for our direct actions but also as a site of community outreach and new member recruitment. Development is imminent; check occupythefarm.org and our social media pages to keep up with the situation at the Gill Tract.

This article is not meant to be all inclusive, it only outlines my vision and my analysis. I encourage people to check out their local farms and make their own conclusion. This is a call to action. Put your praxis where your mouth is and then put food into your mouth.