Monday, May 21, 2012

Guest Viewpoint: Sowing seeds for a bountiful Broome

Growing food on rooftops and patios, community gardening, food recovery programs and food waste reduction have become increasingly popular among urbanites in cities all over the country, including here in Binghamton. There is a growing desire among many consumers to get back to nature and to make their ecological impact as small as possible.

This growing trend has become essential in picking up where our failing food system has left off. In the United States, more than 40 percent of the food produced is never eaten, while 14 percent — or some 50 million Americans — go hungry. Our agricultural lands require large inputs of fossil fuels, pesticides and fertilizers that eventually make their way into our bodies of water. And now, 30 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions can be attributed to these wasteful, high-input agricultural practices.

In Binghamton, there are several initiatives underway that are combating these food system deficiencies from different angles. Broome Bounty, for example, is one of Binghamton's food recovery programs that distributes rescued food to local soup kitchens, missions, shelters and community meal programs. They source this food from restaurants and major food suppliers such as Red Lobster, Olive Garden, Willow Run Foods and Maines Paper & Food, who used to throw this food away. Now Broome distributes these meals to approximately 10,000 needy individuals every month.

The City of Binghamton has had sustainability on its mind for some time. In 1991, the city adopted a pay-as-you-throw garbage-collection scheme, which provides strong incentive for consumers to divert materials from the trash and into the recycling bin or compost pile. Since more garbage means higher fees, this system encourages homeowners, restaurants and businesses to reduce unnecessary waste. Over the last two decades, the average volume of the waste stream has decreased by 48 percent, leading to a $300,000 reduction in landfill fees.

And recycling and composting have benefits for both people and the environment. First, this waste would otherwise go into the landfill where it would break down and release methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Second, compost from food scraps can be used on plant beds as a low-cost, healthy substitute for artificial fertilizers. To encourage this practice, the City of Binghamton sells Earth Machine composters right from City Hall.

Organizations like Volunteers Improving Neighborhood Environments (VINES) of Binghamton can use this compost in the five community gardens that they've created since 2007. The group started this project to revitalize vacant lots and turn them into flourishing community gardens. The garden plots not only give tenants produce for personal consumption, but also provide educational opportunities for students and residents in the area. Giving people the space and skills to grow their own produce is an indispensable tool in protecting access to safe, nutritious food. And it's also a lot of fun!

A venue for the sale of this fresh, locally grown food is also very important. Conveniently located right next to the Broome County Courthouse is the Binghamton Farmers' Market, which provides this venue for locals to buy and sell healthier foodstuffs. The market is every Tuesday and Friday from mid-June to October, and they even entertain with live music.

The Binghamton Regional Sustainability Coalition is planning to take the idea of local food venues even further, with the formation of a cooperative kitchen. Their aim is to support the growing interest in local foods by providing a place where community gardeners and local growers can process, package and distribute their goods. This initiative would bring Binghamton's food system improvement full circle.
Binghamton and other cities like it understand that taking back control of our food and the power to grow it not only protects the environment, but also saves money, improves health and protects food security. Through urban farming and food recovery programs, the people of Binghamton are working together to grow a healthier, and more sustainable community.

Written by
Danielle Nierenberg and Stephanie Buglione


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