Open Space Authority invites public to celebrate ‘urban agriculture’
Event will highlight the many benefits of remaining farmlands and open spaces
Published in the August 31 – September 13, 2016 issue of Morgan Hill Life
By Marty Cheek
“Urban Agriculture” will be the theme of this year’s Coyote Valley Family Harvest Feast organized by the Santa Clara Valley Open Space Authority. The free event will be held 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sept. 10 at the Coyote Valley Open Space Preserve at 550 Palm Ave., north of Morgan Hill.
Local urban farming innovators Veggielution, La Mesa Verde and Garden to Table will help create a fun, hands-on learning experience and a family-friendly celebration of the region’s agricultural heritage, and highlight the many benefits of our remaining farmlands and open spaces.
The theme of urban agriculture comprises a variety of recent social initiatives within developed cities to grow and sell locally-harvested food, including community gardens, farmer’s markets, backyard, roof-top and indoor gardens, school gardens, commercial food-growing operations, neighborhood fruit harvesting, beekeeping — and even raising small animals such as goats, rabbits and chickens.
“People who live in the Bay Area are passionate about good food — and more and more are choosing to grow their own fresh produce,” said Dana Litwin, Family Harvest Feast organizer and volunteer programs administrator with the OSA. “Even in the most dense, urban neighborhoods, you see raised beds, planters, and community gardens brimming with corn, kale, lettuce, spinach, beans, peppers, sunflowers and more.”
Urban agriculture is a grassroots movement to produce local, accessible, affordable, fresh, healthy and delicious foods, she said. Last spring, the OSA asked urban residents about their highest priority open space needs – community gardens were the second highest priority, second only to urban trails.
At the feast, Veggielution, La Mesa Verde and Garden to Table – three local organizations that are actively creating and managing urban gardens and farms in South Santa Clara County — will have urban farmers helping people come together to grow healthy food, strengthen community connections and have fun, Litwin said.
“They will be at the Harvest Feast to demonstrate gardening practices, share recipes and cooking demos, and show you everything you want to know about starting an urban garden,” she said.
Cayce Hill, Veggielution’s executive director, believes that good food, local community, and social networks make everyone healthier.
“Veggielution provides a sense of place, community voice, ownership and stewardship. Food becomes the platform for bringing people together in a public outdoor space,” she said. “It’s not about pounds of food produced, but rather, about the connections that are created among people and the leadership that emerges from the community.”
Zach Lewis, Garden to Table’s executive director, helped start the nonprofit when he was an urban planning graduate student at San Jose State University. He wanted to connect people with the source of their food.
“If you put a seed in the ground and pull a carrot out, you’re going to have a very different perception of your food than if you buy that carrot at the store,” he said.
Lewis sees a direct connection between urban farming and the local economy.
“We have very a specific intention to understand the local food economy, and how that can be leveraged to create more opportunities for the local food system,” he said. “This is in terms of creating good jobs, and also unlocking the potential of vacant lots and neighborhood fruit trees to better provide low-income neighborhoods with fresh, healthy food at a lower cost.”
Urban agriculture can lead to healthier living for children and grownups alike, Litwin said.
“We all know that a carrot is better than a candy bar — fresh, whole foods have more nutrients and vitamins than processed foods, and are more satisfying,” she said. “Fresh foods are readily available from local farm stands or farmers markets. The whole urban agricultural movement creates jobs and entrepreneurial opportunities in growing, transporting and selling fresh foods.”
In addition, local farms and gardens offer an opportunity for local children to learn where their food comes from, about healthy eating habits and the importance of nature, the environment, and open spaces.
It’s appropriate to hold the feast and learn about farm-to-table eating habits in a region such as Silicon Valley known for its high-tech industries, Litwin said.
“The Family Harvest Feast is a time to unplug and reconnect to the natural world,” she said. “Before Silicon Valley, this area was known as the Valley of Heart’s Delight, and people spent their days growing apricots, cherries, prunes, berries and nursery crops. The Family Harvest Feast will help us create a bit of the Valley of Heart’s Delight in our own home, backyard and communities — to enjoy every day of the week.”