AVALON (AP) — Jodie Kern started gardening with her son, Jayden, after the pandemic. And in the scenic outdoor space at the back of her apartment in Avalon, they grew a variety of foods, from tomatoes and zucchini to watermelon and pumpkins.
As inflation pushes the price of groceries to record highs, Kern, a single mother who works as a DoorDash driver and nanny, said farming in her backyard has become a way to eat healthier, d instilling a hard work ethic in Jayden and saving money.
“It just became a situation where I’m not able to finance the kind of food I had before, and that’s why I started to venture into the concept of gardening,” she says. “With things that weren’t available and the price going up, my budget just wouldn’t allow it.”
Kern isn’t the only one feeling the effects of inflation. Each level of the food pyramid becomes more expensive, as the price of American food has increased by 10.4% over the past year, according to data from the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics. The cost of fruits and vegetables alone has increased by 8.1% in the United States over the past year.
But for Kern and Jayden, even though groceries are more expensive, an entire garden of fresh vegetables is too much for both of them, so the couple have also donated their extra yields to friends or neighbors in need.
“If there is plenty of [fruits and vegetables]we try to share with the community for those struggling and in need, simply because we have more than we need,” said Kern.
Urban agriculture, like Kern’s garden, also includes community growing spaces, vertical farms or rooftop plants. These efforts can help combat the rising cost of food by producing local, cheap or free fruits and vegetables, state officials and urban farmers said.
“Our challenge is to make sure that people who need food have access to it, and inflation just puts more pressure, and I would say it puts more need there,” Russell Redding, secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, said Tuesday.
Food prices around the world are soaring due to a mix of international crises like the war in Ukraine which led to a shortage of wheat and shortages of trucking personnel which led to rotting milk, fruit and vegetables with no way of getting to grocery store shelves.
In the United States, inflation hit a 40-year high of 9.1% in June from a year earlier. As a result, prices for gasoline, home construction and food have skyrocketed for Pittsburgh residents.
Urban agriculture, proponents said, can provide respite from these high prices by offering neighbors free locally grown food, lessons in how to farm at home and community gardens on plots that neighbors can work. together to build and expand.
AJ Monsma, the community coordinator at Garfield Community Farm, said the community farm is working to tackle food affordability and insecurity by donating food and teaching people how to garden.
She said the farm serves between 50 and 100 households with food donations and will also offer plant seeds to people at food banks and tables set up in the Garfield neighborhood throughout the year to encourage the home farming.
“I’ve seen an increase in the number of people coming in for food recently, and that’s probably directly related to the fact that food is more expensive right now,” Monsma said.
About 11% of US households were considered food insecure in 2020, according to data from the US Department of Agriculture.
Ryan Walsh, director of development and communications for Grow Pittsburgh, said the Pittsburgh area is home to about 128 community farms. He explained that most of them are locally run gardens that reinvest their harvests in neighborhoods by donating to food pantries, selling produce in markets or giving away the goods to neighbors for free.
Walsh estimated that urban agriculture serves tens of thousands of people in Pittsburgh each year, and that number is only growing as residents set up more farms in the city. For example, Grow Pittsburgh is currently adding new community farms in Observatory Hill and Bellevue, he said.
“Many of our community gardens do the food distribution themselves,” he said. “So even if people don’t participate by developing your own site, they benefit from the garden because they donate food.”
Yet even with the new site creation, Walsh said food availability is limited in neighborhoods experiencing food apartheid, where food is inaccessible due to historically racist and discriminatory policies like redlining.
“It’s less about where these farms exist and more about whether these farms should exist to fill the voids where grocery stores and other fresh food outlets have been denied and taken away or removed,” he said.
But those urban gardens that can help address some of Pittsburgh’s food access inequities are also becoming more difficult to create, Walsh said, as inflation increases the cost of gardening equipment such as fencing, soil, pots and tools.
“It costs a lot more than before” he said.
And unlike their rural counterparts, which receive millions of dollars in subsidies, agriculture and urban farms often struggle to find financing for land development, maintenance, staffing and production.
Liz Metzler, director of agricultural operations and land management at Hilltop Urban Farm, said Hilltop relies heavily on volunteer crews to work the farm, some of which have dried up during the pandemic.
She added that those who volunteer and participate in urban agriculture learn skills they can apply to their gardens to grow food to create a “Hyperlocal regional food system”.
In an effort to improve urban agriculture, the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture launched a grant program in 2019 to fund urban farms.
Since its launch, the program has distributed thousands of dollars to urban farms in Allegheny County, including gardens like Hilltop Urban Farm, Freeman Family Farm & Greenhouse, and Grow Pittsburgh.
Kent Dey – president and CEO of Project Love Coalition, the organization that runs the Hill District Peace and Friendship Farm and Gardens – stressed that the farm and its ilk are an opportunity for Pittsburgh veterans and farm neighbors to build community.
“Anyone in the neighborhood could stop by if they are interested in growing fruits, vegetables or flowers,” Dey said. “Or if they want to help out and get involved, keep the place nice and the neighborhood nice. Everyone is welcome.
Heaven Davenport, from the Hill District, grows vegetables at the Peace and Friendship Farm. And as a remote worker, she can walk to the community garden and tend to the crops planted during her lunch break or after work.
Ms. Davenport is growing squash this year, but plans to plant peppers, greens and tomatoes soon.
“It’s a good opportunity to go to the garden and eat fresh food, save money and it’s healthy for you”, she says.