As a professional designer, I sometimes forget how much I can contribute as a citizen to making my community vital. Working with City Farm Share outside my work has encouraged me to engage and work more with local citizen groups directly.
City Farm Share (CFS) was formed by a group of Oakland, California, citizens who aspire to promote urban agriculture. It aims to addresses two urban demands: gaining access to vacant lands and starting more community gardens. It works in partnership with the Oakland Community Land Trust (OakCLT) to provide administrative support, technical assistance, and access to resources for everyone who wants to grow their own food locally.
According to CFS’s own research, Oakland has far fewer community garden plots per capita when compared to other cities of its size. Almost all existing community gardens have a long waiting list. There’s a high demand, as yet unmet, for land to grow one’s own food.
The CFS vison states that community gardening and urban agriculture are a form of expressive civic democracy, a means by which everyone can engage in community building by reclaiming land, providing employment and education,
and producing local, fresh organic food. It hopes to protect and expand urban agriculture and strengthen community-government links. Three diverse models—community managed farms, membership-based community gardens and urban agriculture incubators—will be implemented to assure broad participation of citizens and to benefit the whole city socially, economically, and environmentally.
Besides various positive impacts, CFS has another ambitious goal—to systematically improve the overall urban landscape and quality of life. It is the main reason I was drawn to join this advocacy. For many landscape architects, creating a better environment for the whole society is the ultimate goal as well as the motivation. Whereas Sir Ebenezer Howard’s garden city eventually triggered suburbs, CFS’s garden city vision is trying to turn urban vacant lands into community gardens.
It might be too early to say what can ultimately be achieved through CFS, yet I do have some initial reflections on my participation.
1. Learning local needs. Most CFS members are closely connected with different local citizen groups such as development NPOs, organic community farming groups, restaurant entrepreneurs, public health groups, social workers, and schools. Through frequent discussion and sharing in numerous meetings, I learned what the local community really needs as well as all kinds of local development issues.
2. Working with so many disciplines brings a broader perspective. Members with different backgrounds share their own knowledge on urban farming and vacant lands; their various perspectives have given me a multi-level understanding of these city-wide issues.
3. I am not just a designer. As a young professional, I sometimes forget that I am also a citizen and can be a vital part of my community. There are a lot of ways to make a positive impact on society.
4. Social impact takes time. Advocacy requires a careful process to be impactful. It needs many small steps to make a jump. Patience and passion are needed throughout constant communication and various actions. It is a part of daily life rooted in the community.
Currently, CFS is making efforts to help more people become aware of its vision and hopes to put the advocacy into action in the near future. There is still a long way to go, however I believe with more and more people’s understanding and support, eventually this will bring a very impactful change to this most dynamic and diverse city in the Bay Area.
Graphic courtesy of City Farm Share