Tag Archives: local foods

VSU Makes It Easier for Urban Farmers to Get Certified

Dr. Leonard Githinji, VSU's Urban Agriculture Extension Specialist, is spearheading the new academic-based certification program to help urban farmers and educators successfully grow safe food in an urban environment, while increasing their marketability in this growing field.

Dr. Leonard Githinji, VSU’s Urban Agriculture Extension Specialist, is spearheading the new academic-based certification program to help urban farmers and educators successfully grow safe food in an urban environment, while increasing their marketability in this growing field.

Urban agriculture is hot. And for good reason. It can help alleviate urban food deserts, make our food as “local” and fresh as possible and decrease the “food miles” associated with long-distance transportation. From rooftop gardens and aquaponics centers in converted warehouses, to growing crops on abandoned properties, urban agriculture provides a wide range of community benefits, including closer neighborhood ties, reduced crime, education and job training opportunities, and healthy food access for low-income residents.

“That’s why,” say’s Dr. Leonard Githinji, Virginia State University’s Urban Agriculture Extension Specialist, “It’s no wonder we’re seeing a huge increase in the number of urban farms from Brooklyn to Boise and everywhere in between.”

But training hasn’t kept up with demand for these urban cowboys. As Githinji explains, a lot of non-profits, churches, businesses and municipalities are putting a great deal of resources into getting urban farms up and running. So much so that last year the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) published an Urban Agriculture Toolkit to provide informational resources to these group leaders, many of whom have never farmed before or know a nematode from a horned toad. (For the record, a nematode is parasitic worm that often causes damage to garden crops like tomatoes and peppers. A horned toad is actually a desert lizard.)

But there’s a lot to learn, he explains, from business planning, legal issues and market development to soil quality, pest management and plant health. And while an online tool kit is a great resource, we need more science-based, boots-on-the-ground training for these urban pioneers.

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Extension helping to put an end to urban food deserts

photo of community garden

Community gardens such as this one are helping Richmond City residents combat the challenges posed by food deserts.

The young woman named Special from Richmond City had no idea she was in an urban food desert when she walked in to a Virginia Cooperative Extension symposium set up to tackle the problem.

Special’s father had recently died from a heart attack and she was looking for ways that her family could start eating healthy, so she attended the event at Fifth Street Baptist Church that featured a number of tips on eating well. Special not only learned that she was one of the thousands of Richmond residents living in a food desert, she also learned how she can work with VCE to combat the issue.

“Today’s event has really inspired me to get involved to work with VCE and others to address this concern,” she told her local Extension agent.

There are more than 25 food deserts in Richmond, where people do not have easy access to fresh and nutritious food within 1.5 miles of their homes. Though grocery stores or farmers markets may be accessible by car, many people do not have a means to get to one, so they are dependent upon their corner store, which often carries fast or junk food.

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