Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Huntsville/Madison Community Food

Wow!  Where did January go ?
    It is the 15th of February and this our second post of the year. Time is flying. We have been working hard on several things.
      We are now Alabama's only certified SPINfarming teacher. Spin stands for Small Plot Intensive farming. The creators of the concept and authors Wally Satzewich and Roxanne Christenson created a system that minimizes two of the largest barriers to new farmers: The cost of land to farm and the cost of equipment to farm. SPIN farming is sub-acre farming, in fact many backyards are suitable for small farming operations that can be very productive.
         There are several aspects of this concept we will explore in depth here soon. The short version is simply this. Using various systems of sub acre farming from basic in-ground techniques to SPIN farming to hoop houses, hydroponics and aquaponics, it is possible for a small space farmer to achieve gross incomes from $1- $5 per Square Foot of production area.
            We are blessed to live in North Alabama particularly to work in the cities of Huntsville and Madison. With the very high average education and income levels of the average household, the Metro Huntsville / Madison is a dynamic emerging market for fresh food. This is a huge key for a farmer or a community of farmers to succeed.
             FOOD SECURITY begins at home! Not everyone enjoys the ability to grow food on their personal property for a variety of reasons, we all understand that. That does not change the fact that each individual household bears responsibility to secure a consistent food supply if that is possible. In order to achieve a level of Food Security for Metro Huntsville / Madison we have also been working through the concepts of Neighborhood and Community Agriculture.
          NEIGHBORHOOD AGRICULTURE as we envision it is made up of these four basic elements. There are many many other elements to be sure but let's keep the concept simple or I will get lost.

THE FAMILY GARDEN, whether in the front yard or backyard or at a neighbors or a family member's house, the family garden is the single best deterrent to food insecurity.

THE COMMUNITY GARDEN. There are numerous types of Community gardens, from a volunteer led effort with the food produced being given to those who cannot feed themselves to a site where growing food for personal consumption and gardening skills can be transferred to others. Often these gardens serve other purposes, often unintended but very real. The opportunity to meet your neighbors is foremost, the opportunity to be exposed to gardening and even the basics of farming could help develop the next great neighborhood farmer.

THE NEIGHBORHOOD FARMER, using a single backyard or utilizing a multi location setup. The economics are there for those who are willing to work. A hard working full time farmer with a year or two under their belt using a SPIN approach to farming and harvesting can approach $50,000.00 in gross income. A part time farmer can gross $8-10,000 each season.  These aren't just jobs, these are sole proprietorships, small businesses. A neighborhood farmer is uniquely positioned to change a neighborhood and a community.

THE NEIGHBORHOOD FARMERS MARKET. It a violation of city ordinances to sell from your home without a variance and permit. Starting with a 10' x 10' popup tent or even a tailgate type market it is possible for a farmer to develop a following within his or her respective neighborhood and community. When joined by 2 -3 other farmers the site begins to take on legitimacy as a valid place of commerce. What better way to keep transport costs down than to walk to your local food purveyor who you come to know and trust. The smart local farmer will be at market at the same time on the same days every week. There are people delivering fresh food everyday by bicycle! Of course properly placed, indoor, year round farmers markets will be needed in time.

     Think about it...The community farmer can concentrate on growing the high end highly perishable food items such as lettuce and spinach and delicate vegetables like heirloom eggplant varieties. Why burn fossil fuels for the transport of the freshest, most perishable food items we all need? Short growing period food products are a key for the community farmer. Low calorie, long growing season, low value crops can be grown by the suburban and rural farmers to best effect. They have more land space. That is not to say that those farmers should not utilize diverse cropping strategies. 
      As I said, we'll be fleshing out these ideas here and elsewhere this year, which is also The Year of Alabama Food, so stay tuned, and look for fresh local food coming soon to your family!

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