Need proof that urban farming can change the world? Take a look at what one group of urban pioneers, The Urban Farming Guys, have accomplished – without obtaining funding in order to get started. They set out to turn an inner city neighborhood around simply by being settlers. Over the past few years these families from the suburbs have managed to reduce the crime rate, reduce drug use, create hope and a future where none has existed in many, many years. No one sent them there. This isn’t a job, it’s a lifestyle – homesteading the urban frontier. A wild place, a zip code that most of society goes out of their way to avoid.
When I first learned of the UFG a few years ago, I was amazed. They’ve done so many great things without much money. It’s not super expensive to buy a house in a neighborhood like Lykins, though it will need extensive work, but as long as it’s livable, remodeling can happen over time. Growing their own food made it a sustainable endeavor, and then they started growing more food… bus stop gardens, vacant lots… food for the community. People, the indigenous, started to take interest. They wanted to be involved. Teaching kids and employing them to work the gardens, where food comes from, and how to care for it as it grows. Soon they were drawing in drug addicts, and turning them around from contributors to neighborhood crime to productive citizens with skills and purpose.
They brought in chickens, goats for milk, and built an off-grid aquaponic systems, growing 1,000 pounds of tilapia in a year in a space the size of a bedroom. And set about creating sustainable energy to power it, beginning with a methane digester built from whatever they could get their hands on. As donations of tools, materials, and money started rolling in, they added solar energy, rainwater collection systems, and greenhouses. Even the homes they live in use alternative energy.
They bought vacant lots. They bought empty houses, and abandoned schools – turning them into places for learning, fun, and homes for people they helped get off the street, off of drugs. The neighborhood started changing. Residents started cleaning up their properties, and planting their own veggies in community garden plots built by UFG. Kids started playing in the streets again. Volunteers requested the opportunity to help, some even full-time. Employment grew, businesses incubated, and a local economy blossomed.
Don’t get the idea that they’ve turned it into Utopia. But it is a citizen-made island of positive change, a 5-block area surrounded by the anger that runs rampant in a concrete jungle. Still, its a lot more progress in the war against drugs, poverty, hunger, and crime than bureaucracy has accomplished. You can’t just study it, or hope for a government program to be created. That just breeds more of the same problem. You have to roll up your sleeves, and make it happen. That’s what started this ‘urban experiment’ – as The Urban Farming Guys call it.
They once wondered if you can restore a blighted community from the inside out by moving into the neighborhood, and helping it change itself. Yes, it can be done. And the world is interested in learning just how this group in Kansas City’s inner city are doing it without being independently wealthy, or getting grants and government assistance. The project has part-time and full-time volunteers. They come from far and wide, from all age groups, to work and learn at the same time. The Urban Farming Guys have traveled internationally to help people discover sustainable food production and what working together can accomplish in places like India and Mexico.
Sustainable communities is the solution to so much of what’s wrong with the world today. They create their own jobs, food system, economy, and leaders. But to see this, one must silence the chatter, and shut out the distractions:
“We go mining for the “gold” that exists in every neighborhood… the leaders that already exist within, hiding somewhere under the rubble, and the children that make up the next generation. It’s about people! And you cannot buy it! If you could buy what we do, after spending the first million dollars to payroll a team and fund some projects, then it takes a second million dollar fund to start a housing program for a blighted area. But first it can cost over $250,000 just to do a blight study before a Community Development Corporation or (CDC) will write the rest of the grants to get started. Miles ahead, bypassing all of those costs, Urban Pioneers simply inspire each other to buy homes on the same block, and they invest their own dollars and simply get the job done. Neighbors begin taking pride and taking part. This immediately increases the leadership capacity of the neighborhood and adds many potential mentors on the block: role models, block watch captains, and simply people who care and believe. Eyes are on the street with soccer balls and frisbees flying through the air once again. Kids are joining our after school art program and working in the community gardens with us. Understandably, most CDC employees would not dare move their homes into these problem areas. You couldn’t afford to buy five of these pioneers!” from UFG; A Model
Imagine how much different everyone’s lives would be right now if the billions of dollars squandered by these useless programs and studies were actually put to work making things happen. Add the billions spent in the war on drugs, the war on crime, and the war on poverty. They are all the results of progress, industry, and money being more important than people and community. Allowed to nurture itself, a community can grow and sustain itself. Great things can happen without wasting years and lives.
Where there is a will, there is a way. The Urban Farming Guys are a shining example of what is truly possible by just diving in and sticking to your purpose. They’ve inspired the world at large from 5 bombed-out blocks trapped in a war prolonged by a whole lot of talk, mountains of squandered money, and no action. The potential of urban farming, and the jobs and economy it creates far exceeds the subsidence level so many report it offers. As the UFG founder says, “Ignore the talkers, and find the doers.”