The Urban Farmer

The Urban Farmer

Paul Fischer


Teaching Assistant Jeremy Romanul

Professor Katlyn Morris

Karen Washington and Co-ops in Urban Areas

Urban areas such as the lower Bronx are facing a crisis in food system technology. The problem is not supply, the home of Karen Washington is located next to one of the largest suppliers of fresh fruits, vegetables, and other food products in the country, but instead of access. A number of policies, infrastructural and systemic, have seen the obesity crisis in urban areas reach a critical point in urban communities across the country outlined by the entrepreneur in a recent speech hosted by the University of Vermont at the Silver Maple Ballroom in the Davis Center. This was a presentation that spoke to me personally, as I had seen a similar effort in Montreal thrive in the once depressed Lionel-Groulx area. It is now a hotspot not just for community organic food systems and social justice programs, but also hipsters, musicians, and students.

By laying out what was at stake, diseases from heart disease to diabetes that develope at least partially as a consequence to sedentary lifestyles and obesity and then showing a successful action plan which had helped introduce a healthier manner of living in the Lower Bronx, students at the University of Vermont were able to take home a strong lesson in community planning and action. The latter of those ailments currently kill 200,000 people a year, nearly half of which are preventable, a statistic which was pointed out in the presentation. Also referenced was the estimated cost of the dramatic rise in diabetes which could see that number rise 5 to 10 fold in the coming generation. While the trends are geographical, the increase has not been and the crisis affects nearly the entire country. Digging a little deeper revealed, that because the disease involves many other disorders and affects patients for most of their life, that the estimated costs are currently nearly half a trillion dollars (almost the same size as all organized crime in the country for reference), and if action is not immediately taken, could swell to a quarter of the overall American economy (Hex, 858).

La Familia Verde Community Garden Coalition helped kickstart City Farms Market, which became the first inner city farm of its nature. Following this early success, Karen Washington was able to buy almost a couple dozen square miles upon which a full scale farm entered into operation. One notable challenged posed by local law enforcement which was overcome was a prohibition of the cultivation of bumblebees for honey due to their reputation as ferocious animals, illegal according to city ordinances intended for such creatures as lions and tigers.

That wide and, one might ironically say, vicious interpretation of the law of the land reminded me of a similar investigation into the cultivation of pigs near a subway station in Montreal. Unfortunately, that is a battle which still has to be fought, though I remember from a couple of years back, having checked out the relevant legislation when it came up in an unrelated legislative investigation into urban city ordinances, that it should be one which has a fair chance of success as well. At the time that legislation was passed, in the 1800s, cattle and other livestock were prohibited from inside city boundaries due to the actuality of collision with carriages and cutting edge research into microbiology that suggested the city’s sewage systems were woefully inadequate to deal with even the necessary horse traffic and human waste. Obviously, the prohibition was intended to be a mitigating factor with no relevance in the modern world.

Questions and answers brought up some more of the social justice issues and the geographical distribution problems of the obesity crisis. Other agricultural concerns such as the recent legalization of marijuana which has seen farmers become wealthy while .7% of the prisoners in jail who were incarcerated during prohibition were predominantly minorities also came up. This brought the question of affirmative action to the business world in a unique fashion. Finally, free Ben and Jerry’s was offered as an example of how investments in recreation can sometimes offset an indulgence, such as the flavor Maple Blondie that honored Vermont Olympian Hannah Teter. Such promotions both promote interest in athletics and in that case also provided clean water to her hometown in Kenya.


Hex, N., et al. “Estimating the current and future costs of Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes in the UK, including direct health costs and indirect societal and productivity costs.” Diabetic Medicine 29.7 (2012): 855-862.

Washington, Karen. “Presentation at the University of Vermont Silver Maple Ballroom” The University of Vermont (2017).

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