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University at Buffalo wins grant to aid urban farming

University at Buffalo wins grant to aid urban farming

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Groundwork Market Garden along Genesse Street is one of more than a dozen urban farms in Buffalo. Owner Mayda Pozantides picks tomatoes in the farm's wind tunnel. 

A team of University at Buffalo researchers has received a nearly $1 million grant from the Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research (FFAR) to test inclusive urban agriculture.

Urban food systems provide locally produced, affordable and healthy food to low-income communities and communities of color.

Local governments can support urban food systems through policies that include zoning land for farming, tax credits and grants for urban growers. Yet, policymakers rarely enact these policies, and when they do, it is often without grower input.

The UB study is fueled through the FFAR Seeding Solutions program and $1.1 million in matching funds from UB, the Buffalo-based Massachusetts Avenue Project and Urban Fruits and Veggies, Appetite For Change, Johns Hopkins University (with support from the Bloomberg American Health Initiative) and the University of Minnesota.

“Recent experiences with the Covid-19 pandemic have illustrated the need for well-functioning urban food systems, which are supported by this grant. Design of such systems ought to be informed by experiences of community networks,” said Samina Raja, principal investigator on the project. She also is professor of urban and regional planning in the UB School of Architecture and Planning and director of the school’s Food Systems Planning and Healthy Communities Lab.

Allison DeHonney of Urban Fruits and Veggies, Diane Picard of Massachusetts Avenue Project, and Rebekah Williams of Buffalo Food Equity Network will lead community-focused work in Buffalo; Darryl Lindsey of Appetite for Change will lead in Minneapolis.

Urban food systems face unique challenges. Urban farmers must compete with housing and retail developers for expensive land. These lots have limited access to energy and water and are covered by restrictive zoning ordinances. Local governments often prioritize land use that generates property taxes through policy incentives. However, these farms have considerable value for urban communities.

Urban agriculture reduces transportation emissions and sewer outflows, mitigates urban heat island effect, creates jobs and greens and beautifies urban spaces. It reintroduces farming to youth and adults of color, boosts property values and promotes social cohesion.

The research team is studying the role of social networks and social capital in urban food systems, as well as how urban farmers work together to encourage growth and policy decisions.

Pamela Dayton and her husband, Jon, used to plant a vegetable garden on their Genesee County property. Then they had four children. Busy lives and the demands of parenthood meant something had to give. Out went the garden –  but not the couple’s commitment to helping Olivia, Jack, Henry, and Elliott, ages 7 to 14, eat right, enjoy meaningful

The research is taking place mainly in areas that are historically communities of color. The team is also examining the divides between local government networks and urban food systems networks that limit urban agriculture.

Using this information, the community partners and researchers will work with urban growers, particularly growers of color, to develop cooperative strategies to engage with local government.

Urban food systems face unique challenges. Urban farmers must compete with developers for expensive land.

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