Initiatives underway to promote ‘homegrown’ sustainability

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Photo by A. Sue Weisler

Peppers, radishes, lettuce and squash are just a few of the items produced by Rochester- area farms that can be part of the diet of a “local foods” consumer. The local foods movement and its place in sustainable development is a major focus of RIT projects that are enhancing the use of these products on campus and on the local food economy.

A key initiative in the global push to create more sustainable communities is the increasingly popular local foods movement, which promotes the purchase of locally grown and produced products within 100 miles from a community. While the initial benefits of supporting local businesses and farms are clear, the ancillary benefits could have a major impact on nutrition, climate change, urban revitalization and land management in local communities and around the world.

At RIT, a number of initiatives are underway to enhance access to locally produced foods for faculty, staff and students, and promote the further development of the local food economy in Rochester. For example, the Better Me/Employee Wellness Committee sponsors a farmer’s market at RIT from August to October featuring local growers with the goal of supporting area businesses, improving nutritional opportunities for students and staff, and lowering the campus’ environmental footprint.

“Agriculture, including the production and shipping of food, is one of the largest generators of green-house gas emissions, and processed foods contain many additives that have been shown to have a negative effect on human health,” notes Christine Kray, RIT associate professor of sociology and anthropology. “Accessing local food markets greatly reduces the need for transport by truck or ship, and small community farms often implement more sustainable farming techniques and land use planning than large factory farms.”

Kray is leading the development of, a community Web site that helps people in the Rochester area incorporate more local foods into their diet. The site includes a list of local products available throughout the year in area stores, restaurants, farms and bakeries featuring local foods. It also provides information on local hunting and fishing opportunities, instructions on developing a backyard garden, directions for preserving and canning foods, and recipes for local food specialties.

Kray has also worked with Ann Howard, professor of public policy and senior associate dean in the College of Liberal Arts, to improve opportunities for urban farming in the city of Rochester. For over 10 years, Howard has directed a partnership between RIT and the Northeast Neighborhood Alliance and the Greater Rochester Urban Bounty. The partnership is designed to support citizen-led community development and urban revitalization. For example, Urban Bounty operates The Vineyard, a 2.69-acre urban farm and community education center located on a former vacant lot in northeast Rochester.

RIT also provides planning assistance and faculty support for the development of urban agriculture and community gardening in the northeast neighborhoods. Numerous students have had the opportunity to assist in research and analysis, marketing and outreach efforts. Howard is now working with community leaders to develop a broader marketing strategy to further promote urban agriculture as a way to meet the food needs of urban residents.

“Community gardens are a perfect example of how sustainable planning can thrive even in urban settings,” says Howard. “Urban agriculture promotes 
local economic development, neighborhood redevelopment and green agriculture, while providing community members tangible evidence of their accomplishments every time they sit down to eat.”