Caleb Richter-Tate, an adjunct instructor of geography at FRCC-Westminster, is passionate about sustainable urban agriculture.
Caleb grew up in a farming community in Nebraska and has been involved in agriculture, urban farming and sustainability for most of his life.
Richter-Tate says urban agriculture is empowering. “(Imagine) if everyone in the city could grow even one-tenth of their own food. Think about how much food wouldn’t be factory farmed,” he said.
Richter-Tate runs a community development group called Sustainable Backyards and Edible Landscapes. The program strives to connect people who are interested in urban farming so that they can support each other in the establishment of their gardens.
Richter-Tate draws on his extensive experience with farming and sustainable practices to provide guidance to members. He encourages Front Range Community College students to join his development group or to start an urban garden independently.
“Start by having your own house plant. It’ll grow: both the actual plant and your knowledge and interest in farming,” Richter-Tate said. “I would encourage people to start trying anything on the scale that they can. If you have twenty acres or two windowsills, do what you can.”
According to the USDA, “City and suburban agriculture takes the form of backyard, roof-top and balcony gardening, community gardening in vacant lots and parks, roadside urban fringe agriculture and livestock grazing in open space.” They define sustainable agriculture as “capable of maintaining their productivity and usefulness to society indefinitely. Such systems… must be resource-conserving, socially supportive, commercially competitive, and environmentally sound.”
Factory farms are large scale, mass production farms and ranches. They aren’t sustainable in the long term and wreak havoc on the planet. In meat producing factory farms, the animals are confined to small areas, often in cages, and fed large quantities of antibiotic laden feed. The FDA estimates as much as 80 percent of all antibiotics administered go to animals, while only 20 percent go to humans. This feed quickly fattens the animals and prevents diseases that can run rampant under such conditions. The waste that is created from livestock pollutes water, soil and air equally as does the transportation industry.
Factory farms for produce are large monocrops, which grow only one kind of plant or produce. Monocrop fields require higher quantities of pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers than polyculture or permaculture systems. The run-off from factory farmed fields travels to and destroys distant ecosystems, as seen in the dead zones in the Gulf of Mexico from fertilizers and herbicides flushed down the Mississippi River.
Urban agriculture lessens people’s impacts on the environment. When people grow the food that they consume in their backyards, it diminished pollution from shipping food across the globe. “It’s healthier, physically, for people. It’s better for your body, for the planet, and even for your wallet,” Richter-Tate said.
Gardening teaches people “to reconnect with your environment, your earth, with the things around you instead of being a completely separate entity from it,” Richter-Tate said. In a society that is increasingly disconnected from the natural world, including food sources, that reconnection to the earth is invaluable. People are more likely to support something that they connect to.
“What is amazing is the first time you actually eat something that you’ve grown and produced. Once you actually eat some salsa that you made all by yourself, that you grew and put your time and effort into: that’s something that changes people,” Richter-Tate said.
Another benefit of urban farming is the sense of community it creates. According to Richter-Tate, “People learn by seeing other people do stuff. It encourages community development.”
Urban farming takes many forms. People create farming plots in vacant lots, on roof tops, in church yards, in backyards and on windowsills. In community gardens across the Front Range, people can grow fruits, vegetables and flowers. These gardens add aesthetic beauty to the landscape, provide habitats for animals, and most importantly, produce food. Moreover, these gardens encourage people to interact with each other, protect each other’s gardens and sharing harvests.
Front Range Community College also offers classes that focus on sustainable urban agriculture. There is a class about urban agriculture, as well as an entire Urban Agriculture Management Certificate. The college also offers classes on horticulture, including sustainable horticulture.
“Forming a connection with a plant usually grows into something bigger,” Richter-Tate said.
Written by Alex Liethen
Photo from Richter-Tate’s website