Farmers and Farm Stands
Farmers’ markets and farm stands both increase local access to food and support local food production. Farmers’ markets consist of multiple local farmers selling their food together at one location based on a schedule that varies anywhere from once a month to a few times a week. On the other hand, farm stands operate more consistently throughout the week and usually have only one vendor, though the produce may have been obtained from any number of farmers.
As of July 2019, the Delaware Department of Agriculture’s Buy Local Guide for Delaware stated that there are 19 farmers’ market locations and 100 farm stand locations across Delaware.
Many farmers’ markets and farm stands in Delaware now accept SNAP and WIC benefits, and the Buy Local Guide specifies whether or not these locations accept such benefits. For communities where local farmers’ markets and farm stands don’t accept SNAP and WIC, helping these markets become qualified to accept the benefits will help improve access to healthy food for families living in poverty.
Farmers’ markets and farm stands primarily sell healthy foods, and they are often located within walking distance of populated urban areas. Communities can use local ordinances to help promote farmers’ markets and farm stands by changing zoning to be more permissive for such events and by incentivizing programs through tax breaks or administrative assistance. For example, local governments can amend zoning codes to define farmers’ markets as a type of use and classify farmers’ markets as conditional uses in residential areas rather than limiting them to commercial areas.
In addition to increasing access to food, farmers’ markets and farm stands benefit local farmers and the community by increasing spending on locally produced food. Supermarkets tend to rely on fruits and vegetables imported from across the country; whereas farmers’ markets and farm stands bring food from farmers directly to nearby communities. Several farm stands like Wilmington Green Box, Urban Acres, and Bright Spot Farms also focus on employing and training local youth.
Community Supported Agriculture
CSAs are programs that create a relationship between local farmers and residents by allowing community members to buy shares of produce at the beginning of the season in return for regularly supplied boxes of mixed produce from the local farm. Some CSAs also allow consumers to help farmers in other ways (e.g., maintaining a website or helping out on the farm) in exchange for a share of the produce. By bringing community members and local farmers together, CSA programs benefit farmers and consumers alike.
The results of a recent study provide evidence for the theory that joining a CSA improves “food lifestyle behaviors and health outcomes.” According to its findings, CSA enrollment benefitted those who reported being in poor health before joining the CSA, suggesting that CSAs could be especially helpful for improving the health of those already struggling with health problems associated with food insecurity. In contrast to visiting shops and markets, once a person buys into a CSA they are guaranteed a certain number of produce boxes throughout the growing season.
Community and Urban Gardening
There are many benefits to promoting and providing residents with greener places to live. Research suggests that green enhancements mean fewer health problems, higher property values, and more social and economic activity in the surrounding areas. Endeavors such as community and urban gardens also promote the local production of healthy food. Given findings such as these, even areas with minimal open space are beginning to find creative ways to implement gardens.
How to Garden in a City
Although many may associate gardening and food harvesting with more rural locations such as country farms, growing food locally in urban and suburban areas has environmental, aesthetic, and health benefits for the whole community. In areas with larger populations, urban gardens can be created in open spaces and in vacant lots. Incorporating gardens into what might otherwise be a concrete jungle or blighted lot enhances the community aesthetic, creates a “sense of place” or identity, and helps to absorb water runoff. Rooftop gardens— another popular urban gardening technique—can help insulate buildings to reduce heating and cooling costs.
To help make gardening possible in local communities, cities need to create zoning rules and city ordinances that allow for the creation of community gardens in areas that may currently have strict land use rules.
Community Gardening in Delaware
Community gardens of all shapes and sizes are sprouting up across Delaware thanks to grants awarded by the Delaware Department of Agriculture (DDA) in 2016 and 2017. In 2017 alone, DDA provided local organizations with almost $18,000 in community gardening grants. For New Castle County organizations, these grants were supplemented by an additional $10,000 from the New Castle County Conservation District.
The Delaware Center for Horticulture has supported the creation of urban agriculture sites in New Castle County. Together with the University of Delaware Cooperative Extension Office and several other organizations, the Delaware Center for Horticulture successfully launched the Delaware Urban Farm & Food Coalition. Visit the Delaware Center for Horticulture’s website for the list of its affiliated urban gardens.
While the coalition’s hands-on efforts are focused on its constituents in Northern Delaware, the group offers resources to guide communities across Delaware through the process of creating and maintaining urban gardens. These resources include information about current gardens, appropriate planting and design guidelines, checklists for garden creation, and training for new gardeners.
While more attention has been focused on community gardens in New Castle County, organizations like the University of Delaware Cooperative Extension and the Boys and Girls Clubs of Delaware have worked to bring community gardens to both Kent and Sussex Counties as well. Additionally, the Healthy Food For Healthy Kids group has led efforts to create school gardens across the state. The American Planning Association worked with Kent County through the Plan4Health initiative and identified the need to create more urban agriculture as an important strategy for improving the health of Kent County residents.