Urban agriculture harvests community pride
By Janet Prichard
Future Farmers of America
meet the urban cowboy.
Community gardens often mean survival for millions of hungry people in developing countries, according to PLU Assistant Professor of Economics Rachel Nugent. In the United States, urban agriculture has different purposes, and it has been an important phenomena since the victory gardens of the World War II era. Nowadays, its growing popularity stems from the vast social benefits afforded densely populated neighborhoods.
Nugent, in her animated teaching voice, ticked off a handful of benefits. "Community gardens improve the look and safety of neighborhoods. Areas of former drug dealing have evaporated. Property values have increased. Neighbors get to know neighbors because tilling the earth is a great equalizer." She added that community pride is harvested along with prize tomatoes, cucumbers and carrots.
Can the ritual of back-fence recipe swapping be far behind? Certainly the bonds among neighbors strengthen and neighbors begin to look out for one another, their children and their homes.
In many developing countries plagued by environmental damage, urban agriculture can encourage the use of recycled resources. "Yard waste and horse manure fertilize the soil and gray water, unsuitable for drinking, nourishes the seeds," Nugent said. "This process creates value from that which was without value," the economist explained.
Nugent spent the fall of 1995 in Rome, Italy, studying the sustainability of urban agriculture for the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. As an economist, she researched where community gardens flourished and why. Her final project outlined what public policies best assist people to create and maintain urban vegetable gardens.
Nugent's work with the United Nations led to a prestigious fellowship with the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Only 10 scientists were offered the fellowship, and Nugent was the only social scientist selected. She ran cost/benefit models of urban agriculture viability in selected cities, and what policies were needed to make them work.
What was most exciting for Nugent was the opportunity to work with a variety of scientists. "It underscores my work in the classroom. I try to teach my students to appreciate a variety of voices, to work together to solve complex problems," she said. Her cross-disciplinary approach is employed when she teaches in PLU's global studies program, integrated studies program, environmental studies area, and while guiding students in their independent projects.
Mostly, Nugent sows ideas that not only her students can reap, but also public policy makers, who can make it easier for community gardens to flourish.
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