When you sit down for your breakfast, lunch or dinner in Daly Dining Hall, do you think about where your food was grown? What about whogrew it? Mankind’s connection to what we put in our bodies seems to have been lost in the process of industrialization and development in the modern world. The lettuce and vegetables in Daly Dining Hall’s salad bar or the ingredients at the many stations in Cranberry’s are so easily at our disposal, that we most likely fail to consider the efforts that went into growing each crop.
As with many things in our busy lives, we’ve just come to expect it to be there when we want or need it. Aside from our community garden in the front of campus, farming and agriculture are typically not familiar to those of us living in the more urban areas of New Jersey. Thus, begs the question, what would happen if we blended two seemingly opposite concepts to reintroduce a common practice in a new way? Enter: urban agriculture. As the name implies, this is essentially the practice of cultivating and distributing food in or around urban areas.
In the film, “Growing Cities,” the value of urban farming is brought to light and is examined in its role in America today. Filmmakers Dan Susman and Andrew Monboquette venture out to meet men and women that help bring back the value of what is on our plates and open our eyes to the world of food in a way many never considered.
Some of you may be thinking, “Why does it matter where my food came from as long as it gets to its destination?” There are so many factors that contribute to what you see in our kitchen or dining hall. Understanding the connection to your food is one thing, but the origins of your favorite fruits and vegetables could not only impact your health, but possibly the well-being of other areas where they are grown.
Some students at Rider have been cultivating much of their own food for a long time. Alex Murphy, a junior biology major said, “Having grown up with the knowledge of farming, gardening and having foods that were grown by my own hand, has made me appreciate and love them so much more than those purchased in the store.”
Some people may be wondering if urban agriculture is just a fancy name for a community garden. Do not be mistaken, because there is a big difference between the two. A community garden focuses on products grown for personal consumption, but in an urban farm, produce is grown to be sold. It is simply a level of commerce that distinguishes the two. However, both are highly beneficial, and some may say necessary, in urban areas today. Increases in urbanization mean decreases in land area for agriculture, so over time many are losing that once sacred connection we had with our food.
The good news is, farmers and agriculturists across the country are implementing urban agriculture into their communities to inspire those who not only want to learn about the practice, but know that the food they are purchasing is wholesome and healthy. Urban farms also offer a healthy alternative to fast food options that are seemingly endless.
So, the question remains: what can you do? The answer is simple. Connect with companies and organizations like GreensGrow which requires just a small donation to help them provide the means for cities to grow produce of their own. You can also reach out to the National Young Farmers Coalition, a network of young farmers that are fighting for the future of agriculture. Erica Colace, the executive director at Grow It Green in Morristown, New Jersey, believes that the work they are doing is especially important “because it helps people gain a connection to and an appreciation for their food.”
“Our urban farm builds a sense of community, because when you are here, you are a gardener,” said Colace. “Everyone is equal and no one is judged for who they are or what they do.” Grow It Green Morristown collaborates with a local preschool to educate students and is also the largest New Jersey public education farm. With the celebration of their 10th anniversary and the start of spring, there is no better time for Rider students to get involved with their volunteer program.
I implore you to seek out more information about this incredible movement. Come learn more about the rising popularity of urban agriculture with the Eco-Reps through the film, Growing Cities on April 9 and April 10 at 7 p.m. in Sweigart 115, and see why all it takes is a little passion and dedication to change an entire community.