“A few years ago, nobody knew about urban agriculture,” said Roberta Groch, a board member of the Southside Community Land Trust (SCLT) who also is an urban planner for the state. “But, slowly we started incorporating it into the zoning in Providence and in other communities. And now it’s up at the State House, it’s in the Comprehensive Plan and in state regulations. Urban agriculture is now allowed everywhere, and is a huge part of what’s important to the state.”
Urban agriculture helps to create resilient communities by empowering people to grow safe and healthy food, affordably, close to home and generally without toxic fertilizers and pesticides.
Everyone has heard the idiom, “You are what you eat.” This turns out to be true at a community level, too. When fresh, healthy and affordable food is available in communities — when people have the ability to control their food systems — the benefits are similar to what you see when you eat fresh, healthy and affordable food. Healthy food in our bodies helps us to grow up strong, regulate our emotions, flush harmful toxins and avoid chronic disease. Healthy food in our communities – things like gardens, farms and green markets – help us to cool the planet, stabilize vacant land, experience respite from busy urban streets, spend time with neighbors and create jobs and business opportunities.
Community gardens in Providence, Pawtucket and Central Falls feed an estimated 4,000 people, meal after meal, year after year. More than 20 urban farmers sell their crops at neighborhood farmers markets where fresh, healthy and affordable food can be otherwise hard to find. Every May, more than 2,000 backyard gardeners from across the state come to SCLT’s annual plant sale to purchase 20,000 of the highest quality heirloom, organic and chemical-free vegetable, herb, fruit and flower plants. This alone dramatically increases food biodiversity across the Ocean State.
This kind of social movement doesn’t happen on its own. The explosion of interest in growing food in and around Providence has been fueled in large part by SCLT and like-minded organizations, businesses and philanthropic champions. And you can see the impact of the movement as you travel across South Providence, West End, Elmwood, and beyond to the East Side, and to other urban and rural communities across the state. Rhode Island has a special place in its heart for community gardens, urban farms and farmers markets. And we can all enjoy the benefits.