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24 Groups Leading the Charge in Cultivating Urban Farming

Food
24 Groups Leading the Charge in Cultivating Urban Farming

Since 1950, the number of people residing in urban areas has increased by more than 3.1 billion. It is projected by the United Nations (UN) that by 2050, 66 percent of the world's population will be living in cities.

The rise in urban inhabitants has led to growing global concern over a slew of challenges—including food security, land scarcity, social equity and economic opportunity. In response, communities around the world are digging into their urban landscapes and cultivating foodscapes that can provide green space, nutritious food and increased incomes for farmers, while reducing food miles and creating greater community integration and inclusion.

In honor of National #PlantSomething Day, Food Tank highlights 24 urban agriculture projects from around the world. Photo credit: Ronfinley.com

According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), nearly 1 billion people worldwide are now engaged in urban agriculture. From Nairobi, Kenya to Brooklyn, New York farmers and eaters are finding ways to green their cities.

Ron Finley, a noteworthy renegade in the urban agriculture revolution, has been transforming the streets of South LA since 2010. Affectionately known as the Gangsta Gardener, Finley's rebellious introduction into agriculture is explored in the documentary, Can You Dig This. An inspiring story of four unlikely gardeners, the film calls for people in one of America's most notoriously dangerous neighborhoods and beyond, to “put down their guns and pick up their shovels."

Between April 22-29, organizations around the country will host screenings of the film. On April 30, community farms and gardens, in collaboration with Ron Finley and the Can You Dig This team, will celebrate National #PlantSomething Day—a day of action and service that encourages all to get involved in the urban agriculture movement.

In solidarity, Food Tank is highlighting 24 organizations that are helping to green cities around the world.

1. Abalimi

Abalimi is an urban agriculture and environmental action group located outside of Capetown, South Africa. The organization supports and assists groups and individuals looking to improve their livelihoods through organic farming.

2. Alternatives' Feeding Citizenship

A nonprofit that promotes social and environmental justice in Montreal, Canada, Alternatives' Feeding Citizenship is growing healthy food to fuel healthy communities. The project engages the community through horticultural training programs while supporting school and neighborhood gardens.

3. Beacon Food Forest

Located just 2.5 miles from the Seattle city center, community members, local institutions and volunteers are coming together to grow a place for education, cultural exchange and recreation. With the multifaceted goal of revitalizing public land, improving public health and increasing local food security, the group is cultivating a number of vegetables, fruits and nuts. Redefining what it means to have access to local, organically grown produce, all food is free for the taking.

4. Black Creek Community Farm

Through youth programing, farmer training and community workshops, Toronto's largest urban farm aims to ensure local food security, provide increased economic opportunity for the city's residents and create an intergenerational, multicultural place of learning.

5. Cidades Sem Fome (Cities Without Hunger)

Since 2004, Cidades Sem Fome has been transforming São Paulo, Brazil's unused and neglected land into community gardens, school gardens and agricultural greenhouses. Through these efforts, the organization improves diets, encourages social integration of historically marginalized groups and creates jobs.

6. Cleveland Crops

Cleveland Crops offers agricultural and culinary training to adults with disabilities in Cleveland. Outfitted with season extension techniques, their urban farms remain productive through the long, cold winter months in this former rust belt city.

7. Cultiva Ciudad

A nonprofit in Mexico City, Cultiva Ciudad manages a school garden program and assists at-risk youth in societal reintegration through the teaching of urban gardening skills. Additionally, in collaboration with Centro de Autismo Teletón, they operate a therapeutic sensory garden for children on the autism spectrum. Its education program, pollinator garden, herb spiral and sensory tunnel give children the opportunity to connect with nature.

8. EnerGaia

Based in Bangkok, Thailand, EnerGaia uses otherwise unusable urban space to grow healthy food—namely, sustainable algae products. Their rooftop spirulina farm allows them to address nutritional and environmental problems that plague the city.

9. Fresh and Local

In Mumbai, Fresh and Local transforms underutilized urban space into edible landscapes. With an emphasis on community integration and organic growing, the organization is advancing India's urban agriculture movement.

10. HK Farm

Since 2012, a group of farmers have been growing organic produce on a 4,000 square foot rooftop in an industrial neighborhood of Hong Kong. In an effort to rally other urban agriculture supporters, HK Farm frequently curates exhibitions, coordinates community events, leads educational workshops and collaborates with local schools and businesses.

11. Green Grounds

A grassroots organization, Green Grounds educates and supports residents of South LA as they transform their lawns into edible landscapes and urban farms.

12. Grow Calgary

Grow Calgary, Canada's largest urban agricultural farm, is operated by a dedicated group of volunteers. With the goal of providing healthy, local food to all Calgarians, the farm's output is donated to a community owned and operated food bank.

13. Growing Underground

Thirty-three meters below London's bustling streets, Growing Underground is using the latest in hydroponic technology to grow pesticide-free produce. In addition to drastically reducing water usage and eliminating the concern of agricultural run-off, this urban endeavor significantly reduces the miles traveled by the city's favorite salad leaves and microgreens.

14. Keep Growing Detroit

Keep Growing Detroit aims to create food sovereignty in Detroit through urban agriculture programs, including Grown in Detroit, a network of family and youth community gardens throughout Detroit; the Garden Resource Program, which provides participants with garden resources such as seeds and Detroit-grown transplants; and The Plum Street Market Garden, which models appropriately scaled, production-focused urban agriculture, trains urban growers and volunteers and offers hands-on educational sessions.

15. Mazingira Institute

The Mazingira Institute provides training and support for urban farmers in Nairobi, Kenya. The NGO has trained about three thousand urban farmers and organized youth and women's hubs.

16. Mbuyoni Garden

At Mbuyoni Elementary School in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, the Regent Estate Senior Women's Group has helped to establish a garden that spans one-sixth of the school's land. After early morning tilling and tending, crops are harvested and served for lunch in the school's cafeteria. The project not only addresses malnutrition, but also familiarizes the students with native plants.

17. New Roots

An essential component of the International Rescue Committee's greater efforts to help communities build a secure and sustainable future, New Roots provides recently resettled refugees with the training, tools and land necessary to grow fruits and vegetables in their new neighborhoods. Present in 22 cities, this initiative is helping families become self-sufficient across the U.S.

18. Not Far From the Tree

Not Far From the Tree, based in Toronto, Canada, mobilizes a team of volunteers to pick fruit trees when a homeowner can't keep up with the season's bounty. The harvest is then split equally, with one-third offered to the homeowner, one-third to the volunteer and one-third delivered by bicycle to a local shelter, food bank or community kitchen.

19. Our School at Blair Grocery (OSBG)

Located in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans, OSBG is an independent alternative high school and sustainability education center. Coupling GED-prep with the tenets of sustainable community development, they seek to empower “at-risk youth to make New Orleans the (next) City That Ended Hunger."

20. Pocket City Farms

Pocket City Farms transforms abandoned urban space into productive, organically grown garden plots. They are currently constructing a community learning space that will double as Sydney, Australia's first urban farm.

21. Rev Birmingham—The Urban Food Project

According to The Urban Food Project, 88,000 Birmingham, Alabama residents live in a food desert. In an effort to provide the community with fresh, local, healthy food, this project assists corner store owners in the buying, marketing and selling of fresh, local produce.

22. Siyakhana

Using permaculture principles, Siyakhana has transformed a once unappealing inner city plot of land into a productive vegetable and medicinal herb garden in Johannesburg, South Africa. Additionally, the organization advocates for improved food policy in the country and offers training and work opportunities to the community's marginalized.

23. Sucre Association of Urban Producers

In the outskirts of Sucre, Bolivia, 680 women are now producing pesticide-free vegetables for their families. The remaining produce is sold at market or to a nearby cafe. The association is working toward zero malnutrition and along the way, empowering and uplifting the entire community.

24. The World in a Garden

A multicultural and educational urban farm in Vancouver, Canada, The World in a Garden strives to engage the community, particularly youth, in the development of a just and local food system. In an effort to ensure fair food around the world, they are currently piloting projects in Costa Rica and India.

Find an urban agriculture project near you, secure tickets to a Can You Dig This screening or consider hosting a screening at your local theater to join us in celebrating National #PlantSomething Day on April 30.

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A net-casting ogre-faced spider. CBG Photography Group, Centre for Biodiversity Genomics / CC BY-SA 3.0

Just in time for Halloween, scientists at Cornell University have published some frightening research, especially if you're an insect!

The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.

"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."

The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.

They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.

They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.

But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.

"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.

What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.

It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.

To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.

First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.

Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.

University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.

"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."

Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.

Hoy agreed.

"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.

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