Eshet: Why do you describe the area that the Yisrael Family Urban Farm is located in as a “food desert?”
The Yisrael Family Urban Farm: According to the USDA, a food desert is a place where access to large grocery stores that sell fresh and affordable healthy food is limited. Instead of grocery stores, in a food desert you will find fast food and convenience stores. Access to large grocery stores in a food desert is hard for several reasons. Some are:
- Lack of transportation or no access to public transportation. Even when public transportation is available carrying fresh foods from these locations on public transportation can cause food spoilage. As a result residents in a food desert must rely on what’s close which is usually unhealthy.
- Healthy food choices are usually more expensive calorie for calorie than for sugary substitutes such as Tampico vs 100 Orange Juice.
- Consumers limited knowledge about healthy food choices and it’s preparation are also major barriers
Eshet: From reading your story in another interview, prior to establishing the farm did you have any experience in agriculture? Did you have to take classes, etc.?
The Yisrael Family Urban Farm: Prior to starting the farm, I had no experience in agriculture. After the first year a class was taken in order to become familiar with new methods. Most knowledge was gained through trial, error and through reading books.
Eshet: When was the Yisrael Family Urban Farm established and what was the need for it?
The Yisrael Urban Family Farm: The Yisrael Family Urban Farm was established in 2008 due to and experiment started at home to grow more of our own food and reduce our food bill. As we learned more about the politics around food, and how is impacts black people due to limited alternative choices we felt it was necessary to take what we were doing and invite our community to Transform the Hood for Good.
Also, we’ve found that through food, we can gather people of diverse backgrounds together to work in unity towards a common goal.
Eshet: In many cities the selection for quality food is not good especially in urban neighborhoods. Is this farm located in that type of area? What is the difference between the food that is grown on your farm and what you see in the local food markets? Is it certified organic? I ask this because all markets do not carry organic food.
The Yisrael Family Urban Farm: Yes, we are located in a food desert. Our food is not certified organic at this time, however we use no pesticides, herbicides or chemical fertilizers. We follow the organic standards for food production because this is the same food we feed ourselves.
There are many differences between the food grown at the Yisrael Family Urban Farm and others. First, the amount of natural resources used to produce the food. The average vegetable makes a trip of 1500 or more miles from farm to table on a diesel truck that is refrigerated. Most of the work done to produce food at the Yisrael Family Farm is done without the use of gasoline powered tools, nor has to travel long distances to get from farm to fork. This lessens the amount of pollution into the air. Since the transit time is less, our food tastes better and tomatoes are juicy and exploding with flavor. Last but not least, since we are local to many of our customers, they have the opportunity to get to know the person growing their food and can request specific varieties which the local grocery store cannot do.
Eshet: I’m curious, what is the “Three Sisters” planning method?
The Yisrael Family Urban Farm: The three sisters refers to a planting method that our indigenous brothers and sisters in North America use. The sisters are crops and they are maize, squash and beans. This is an example of companion planting in which several varieties of plants are planted together and help each other survive. Maize provides the structure for the beans to climb and the squash acts as a mulch to keep the sun off the ground. The beans provide nitrogen to the soil.
When harvested, maize and beans provide a balanced diet providing all amino acids. In some cultures, they add another plant which attracts bees to pollinate the squash.
Eshet: I understand the goal is to eventually provide for the community. How large is the farm and how has it grown since the time it was established?
The Yisrael Family Urban Farm: The Yisrael Family Urban Farm is located on a half of an acre. Within that half an acre, we have 1200 sq ft of raised beds, 40+ fruit and nut trees, chickens and bees. When we started in 2007, we had a quarter of an acre and a few fruit trees and 65 sq ft of garden space.
As you can see we’ve grown since then.
Eshet: Do you offer classes and if so why type of classes? What about volunteering?
The Yisrael Family Urban Farm: Yes, our best time for classes are from Fall to Spring. From Spring to Fall we are working at breakneck speed to produce food that we have time for little else.
We do maintain a regular volunteer day on the second Sunday of the month. Volunteer day consists of inviting the community over to do a little work which after completed we relax with a vegetarian potluck. If we don’t have a local speaker talking about food, we take the time to have some conversation around food to educate and inspire others to grow themselves a new lifestyle. This is has been instrumental with letting people know who we are and what we do and how we are here to help transform the hood for good.
Eshet: What are some long term goals you have in mind for the Yisrael Family Urban Farm? Where do you see yourself in the next 5 years or are you thinking that far ahead?
The Yisrael Family Urban Farm: What a question…lol…we’ve are constantly looking into ways to have the biggest impact on ourselves and our community. The long term goals for The Yisrael Family Urban Farm are to turn this place where we are into an educational center which focuses not just on the mechanics of growing food, but also with reconnecting to the natural world. An environment where you and nature are working together is therapeutic and has been be touted by every spiritual belief system.
In the western world, we are completely disconnected from the natural world as we communicate via text, email, instagram and other unnatural communication. If you ask the average person when was the last time they looked at the moon, or found a quiet spot in nature and meditated they would look at you strange as if you were speaking a foreign language. We’ve seen people go from uptight and stressed to balances, centered, peaceful within.
In five years, The Yisrael Family Urban Farm expects to see the model of urban homesteading being duplicated in cities and towns in every state, with ourselves transforming other hoods for good.