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Free Report: The Promise of Urban Agriculture
Food lies at the intersection of many of our most pressing problems— from climate change and our faltering economy, to the obesity epidemic and soaring healthcare costs. From a tornado that killed four people in Western Massachusetts, to the devastating floods of Hurricane Irene and October’s record-breaking early snow that (again) interrupted power for millions on the East Coast, 2011 may well be remembered as the year we really began to see the effects of climate change in New England. We were reminded very visibly and frequently of the fact that our climate has already changed, is less predictable, and places at risk infrastructure stability. Many, many New England farms sustained severe damage as a result of Hurricane Irene bringing into sharp focus the vulnerability of our regional food production system, and the very high price we will pay for climate change damage response and cleanup. It is critical to the safety and security of our food supply to build sustainable agriculture in New England.
By addressing New England’s regional food system, we can begin to tackle some of these issues, and make our region more resilient to the impacts of climate change already underway. That’s why Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) and CLF Ventures are working together to shape and foster the development of a robust New England regional food system.
In 2010, CLF launched a new Sustainable Farm and Food System Initiative. Housed within our Healthy Communities and Environmental Justice Program, the Farm and Food Initiative has been building successfully on the momentum of the growing local food movement. CLF sees sustainable agriculture businesses—including urban and peri‐urban agriculture—as a key component in creating a more carbon resilient, healthier, and economically vibrant New England region. In conjunction with CLF’s program focus, CLF Ventures, CLF’s business consulting affiliate, has begun working on a set of complementary market‐based strategies to overcome market hurdles and advance market access for sustainable agriculture at the local and regional scale. Broadly, our goal is to shape and foster the development of a robust New England regional food system. There are many ways to engage this work, and much good work is already under way. A key need, however is for regulatory and policy change that will facilitate, for example, the types of markets and approaches to land access and use that will be necessary to build a regional food system, as well as innovative investment and financing strategies to support agricultural businesses—both new and emerging—including shared processing facilities, better distribution networks, and expanded production capacity.
Initial Projects: Expanding Opportunities for Urban and Peri‐Urban Agriculture in Greater Boston
For more than a year, CLF and CLF Ventures have partnered with City Growers—a Boston‐based agricultural enterprise—to conduct analyses of both job creation potential within the agriculture sector in Greater Boston and the environmental benefits of such businesses. Complementing that work, we have conducted extensive interviews with agriculture policy experts and conducted a policy gap analysis based on research of existing efforts and identified needs. We are continuing our ongoing advocacy to create a better policy environment for agriculture, specifically in the Boston area—including supporting implementation of the City’s new urban agriculture zoning overlay program, shaping development of new state regulations that will encourage broader and better composting practices, and undertaking, in partnership with Tufts University, a GIS‐mapping study of state and municipal land that could be made available for agriculture. CLF Ventures is working to overcome market hurdles and advance market access for sustainable agriculture at the local and regional scale.
The Work Ahead: Promoting the New England Regional Food System
While urban gardening and farming are important elements of a regional food system, with multiple co-benefits, CLF recognizes that even a successfully ambitious plan for urban agriculture will not adequately meet the food needs of the region. Over the next three years, we will be expanding our work to undertake a similar analysis of the specific policy and market barriers to a regional food system. CLF Ventures plans to focus on alternatives for financing sustainable agriculture businesses. CLF will be partnering with the Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (NESAWG) and the American Farmland Trust (AFT) on key portions of our policy analysis. Our goals include:
- Build leadership capacity and political infrastructure for a regional food system
- Define solutions to the well identified problems of lack of adequate and economically feasible transportation, distribution, and processing infrastructure
- Analyze and mitigate state and federal policy barriers