Food, Sustainability, and a Climate in Crisis

A hydroponic system using the Nutrient Film Technique. Photo by Groundwork Hudson Valley.

Recent times have seen food shelves empty at stores across the country. It has become harder and harder to find fresh, ripe produce and the cost of fruit and vegetables reflects this new reality. As extreme weather, shortages of laborers, high transportation costs, and supply chain issues affect one crop after another, the vulnerability of the current American food industry is increasingly alarming.

Food prices have skyrocketed to an all-time high post-pandemic and energy costs continue to rise as well. Natural disaster like droughts and fires also add to a growing set of deeply rooted problems with America’s current food systems. Now more than ever, it is crucial to center sustainability, security, and equity in food systems and production, but the answers seem elusive.

One increasingly popular solution involves growing food locally. The issues we are seeing stem from a growing population, rapid urbanization, and expansion of the global middle class all of which will have profound impacts on food security, and will place additional pressure on the environment, according to the World Economic Forum. Growing food locally, even in urban areas, can help with these challenges, and Groundwork Hudson Valley is helping Yonkers to do so.

Photo by Mick Haupt on Unsplash

Local food systems need to be in sharp focus

Local foods — or products produced and sold directly to nearby consumers, retail markets, and institutions for human consumption — account for less than 4 percent of total farm sales. But when done right, local foods and products can help communities deal with a wide variety of current issues such as economic development, health and nutrition, food security, and energy use and greenhouse gas emissions. Even in more industrialized areas, community gardens and urban farms can provide vital resources to local communities.

Local food systems bring many benefits to the community and region. They improve access to affordable fresh nutritious produce. Local food doesn’t have to travel hundreds or thousands of miles to arrive at a supermarket or plate, which helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions as well as the amount of food spoilage. The green space of local gardens is visually appealing and helps moderate urban temperatures. Community gardens can be a gathering place and can help educate future gardeners. For local producers, local food accounts for 76 percent of their sales. This approach helps strengthen the local economy and supports farmers and producers, thus creating local jobs.

For Joel Rodriguez and Jason Bonet, who oversee Groundwork Hudson Valley’s Science Barge, the process of growing food on an off-the-grid floating farm on the Hudson River, the challenge begins with assessing what plants thrived the previous year and selecting new plants to experiment with, then acquiring the seeds and materials to begin planting in early March.

Groundwork grew and donated approximately 400lbs. of produce to local organizations and families in Yonkers, NY in 2021. Some of the produce grown on the Barge are tomatoes, peppers, kale, and basil, along with green beans, radishes, lettuce, and cucamelons.

The Groundwork Team’s donation to the local YWCA. Photo by Groundwork Hudson Valley.

Joel Rodriguez, Sustainability Education Manager at Groundwork Hudson Valley said, “While growing food can seem daunting, community efforts like the ones made by Groundwork Hudson Valley on the Science Barge can help ease the burden. Groundwork’s growing efforts allow food to stay local and accessible, combating food deserts and helping eliminate at least one barrier to eating a well-rounded diet. When growing food is done so close to home, it can really make an impact.”

“The wonderful thing about local food growing is that even a little bit helps. Anyone can cultivate produce in their spare time. Because of the biodiversity of vegetable and fruit producing plants, it is possible to grow smaller harvests for oneself or larger ones to share with neighbors and loved ones”, Jason Bonet said.

Green team members at the Science Barge’s greenhouse. Photo by Groundwork Hudson Valley.

The way food is currently distributed and consumed in America is proving to be unreliable and unsustainable, and it is crucial that we collectively realize the strength we hold in regard to changing that system. Supporting local community efforts is invaluable, whether it be organizing, volunteering or purchasing locally. Locally grown food can be the solution to many of our social and environmental problems, as long as we are willing to embrace it.

Groundwork Hudson Valley is an environmental justice non-profit that works with communities to improve climate resilience and adaptation, promote sustainability education, and nurture the next generation of environmental leaders. Visit us at: groundworkhv.org for more information.

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