Create Opportunities: Cultivate Safe Community Spaces, Collaborate Long Term, Build Relationships

Urban Community Agrinomics

Whether they are building fences or teaching community members about planting and growing vegetables, UCAN is making a difference. They have built and maintain a 2-acre Catawba Trail farm, run a CSA, teach agriculture through a STEM lens, and host various events that promote wellness.

Delphine credits their success to social capital and a community-centered approach.

Create Opportunities

In addition to providing access to healthy foods, urban community agritourism provides opportunities for growth and development. These activities are a platform for developing and disseminating skills, such as farming, cooking, food preservation, and sustainable living. They can also foster social capital, increase local economies, and contribute to the overall sustainability of communities (Losado-Horwitz et al., 2020).

Delphine Sellars describes the people that visit UCAN’s Catawba Trail farm as their shared family (personal communication, Oct 2, 2022). Her emphasis on social capital allows individuals from different generations, races and socioeconomic standings to come together and learn from each other while contributing to a common goal.

Not only is the food UCAN produces beneficial for health, but the act of gardening itself benefits the community’s mental and physical wellbeing. Research shows that working with soil reduces stress, lowers blood pressure, and induces relaxation. This is especially true when gardening and farming with neighbors. Urban farming can provide a sense of connection to nature and promote community resilience during times of crisis.

Cultivate Safe Community Spaces

While the goal of urban community agri-nomics may be to promote growth and development, a deeper benefit may also be to cultivate safe community spaces for residents. According to a recent study, urban agriculture can increase social interaction and help community members develop trusting relationships.

For Delphine Sellars, founder and executive director of UCAN, the most important aspect of growing the farm has been bringing together community members with different skills. She says that it is this diversity of expertise and knowledge that makes the biggest impact on the communities they serve.

One way that the city can cultivate safer community spaces for urban farming is by creating a dedicated Office of Urban Agriculture. This could be a resource to help guide New Yorkers through the process of developing a garden or farm, as well as provide the necessary support and resources. This would also help to bridge gaps between departments and allow them to work collaboratively to advance urban farming initiatives.

Collaborate Long Term

Urban agriculture projects require community buy-in to thrive. Without it, projects are more vulnerable to vandalism or other forms of community resistance. Community engagement also helps align farm services with local needs and interests.

Ultimately, urban gardens and farms promote health in a variety of ways. Research shows that gardening boosts physical activity and mental well-being. In addition, preparing and eating home-grown produce provides an opportunity for families to save on groceries and bolsters food security during times of crisis or disaster.

Planting Justice activates communities impacted by food injustice through hands-on environmental science education, soil cultivation and sustainable agriculture skills. They also provide access to nourishing foods and transformative conversations about land, race, food and power.

Build Relationships

Urban community agrinomics bring together diverse groups of people with different skill sets to work on a common goal. This helps to strengthen the community and fosters connections with individuals from a variety of cultural and economic backgrounds (Santo et al., 2022).

For UCAN, this means giving access to the Catawba Trail farm and teaching agricultural skills through a STEM lens to help participants learn how to grow their own food, and then offering classes that teach them how to process and prepare vegetables for consumption. These activities also promote physical health and mental well-being by providing a relaxing, stress-reducing activity that is engaging, social, and goal-oriented.

Delphine Sellars, the co-founder of UCAN, notes that community input is the key to the organization’s success and impact. Through this, she’s able to identify the needs of her community and create opportunities for them that will have the most impact.

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