Monday, January 18, 2010

Grants for Farmers Markets

On the topic of increasing access to healthy foods, The US government is offering grants to create and expand farmers markets and other direct producer-to-consumer markets. The Farmers Market Promotion Program (FMPP) allocated $5 million for Fiscal Years 2009 and 2010 and $10 million for Fiscal Years 2011 and 2012. It's open to applicants from agricultural cooperatives, producer networks, producer associations, local governments, nonprofit corporations, public benefit corporations, economic development corporations, regional farmers market authorities and Tribal governments. In 2009, the programs funded included two efforts to increase low-income consumers' access to farmers markets in California and in Arizona.

Thanks to the online magazine Shareable for drawing attention to these grants. And, if you think you might want to go after some of this money and start a farmers market in your area, Shareable has a great guide to get you started: How to Start a Farmers Market.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Social Sustainability in Backyard Gardens

One of the most eloquent examples of creating social sustainability can be found in a simple vegetable garden. In places where green space, healthy foods and economic resources are all in short supply, a backyard vegetable garden can help provide all three.

An article in today's New York Times describes a group called La Mesa Verde, which goes into people's homes in low income Latino neighborhoods to plant backyard organic gardens.

It's so simple: planting edible gardens contributes to economic sustainability by providing inexpensive, readily available food. One participant in the La Mesa Verde program described saving $90 a month on grocery bills because of the garden.

And the benefits extend beyond the pocketbook: Providing people with the means to accessing inexpensive, healthy foods is important to promoting health equity. An endemic problem in low income communities of color is lack of access to healthy foods (i.e., fresh produce) and a predominance of cheap, unhealthy foods. This, in turn, exacerbates health inequality. The article describes the efforts of La Mesa Verde, started by Raul Lozano, son of farmworkers and a passionate gardener, as part of a national movement "to make healthy food readily accessible to marginilized urban neighborhoods."

Participants also describe the social benefits of bringing their families together, of connecting with children and enhancing community connectedness. And, of course, planting a garden brings with it innumerable benefits to the planet.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Healing and Natural Disasters

There's an important link between sustainability and community healing after natural disasters. This is a link we are exploring in our new book, tentatively titled Healing Green. Beyond the way devastating destruction holds the promise of regeneration and the implicit opportunity to rebuild in a new and innovative way, we think that rebuilding sustainably after natural disasters serves an important healing function for the communities most effected.

We are thinking a lot about this promise of healing as we grieve for the thousands upon thousands of people who have lost their lives, their families, and their communities in Haiti. It's hard to find words to describe the magnitude of such loss and easy to feel helpless as we watch on our television screens, donating money to organizations we hope can help ease some of the suffering. And though against the backdrop of such urgent need, it's hard to imagine a future in which rebuilding will be the focus, such a future will come and we are heartened to see efforts already underway to incorporate green community practices into the rebuilding effort.

The Clinton Foundation has been working with Haiti to "build back better" in the aftermath of the hurricanes that battered the country in 2008 and plans to continue that effort when rebuilding begins this time. The USGBC is working with the Clinton Foundation in these efforts and they will look to, and learn from, the experiences of other communities that are rebuilding green after being crippled by natural disasters. Communities such as Greensburg Kansas which was virtually demolished by a tornado in 2007. The town decided to rebuild as a model green community. Check out the Greensburg Green Town website to learn more. A significant portion of the recovery effort in New Orleans has also looked toward green building principles and practices as they rebuild.

We think it is of crucial importance to build social sustainability into the recovery efforts in Haiti--as the poorest nation in the Western hemisphere, much of the current devastation can be linked directly to poverty and injustice. Without building codes or adequate infrastructures, with a public health crisis in existence even before the earthquake, the damage is much greater than it might have been had this disaster struck somewhere else. And in order to answer the promise of building back better, economic and social injustices will have to be addressed along with environmental ones. As we write about the rebuilding of communities in our book, we will continue to look for lessons about how incorporating social sustainability into rebuilding can help heal the wounds wrought by natural disasters.