Local urban farmers gathered Friday to celebrate national Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) Day and to sign a pledge upholding safe farming practices for soil health and environmental protection.
The farmers signed the Greater Buffalo Urban Growers Pledge at the Massachusetts Avenue Project (MAP) Farmhouse Friday morning.
“We’re trying to grow the healthiest produce for the community that we possibly can, and we thought it was important to have some transparency so that consumers who are purchasing from us can feel comfortable buying safe and healthy products” said Chair of the Buffalo and Erie County Food Policy Council Allison DeHonney.
DeHonney is also executive director of Urban Fruits & Veggies, one of the Buffalo farms that signed the pledge.
The pledge states that growers will research potential contamination of farming sites and regularly test soil for lead and other heavy metals. It also affirms their commitment to best practices for environmental protection, such as not using synthetic insecticides or any genetically modified seeds. Other vows outlined in the pledge include comparing soil tests with New York State Department of Environmental Conservation cleanup objectives and training all staff, volunteers and visitors on soil safety for growing food.
“This pledge really just solidifies in writing the practices that we’ve had for a long time,” said Jeanette Koncikowski, executive director of Grassroots Gardens, a network of 113 community gardens in Buffalo and Niagara Falls that signed the pledge. “We put [it] forth with the other urban growers so that everybody in the city is aware that if they’re getting food from these urban farms, if it’s coming from their community garden, that we are aware of and following best practices in soil safety and soil health.”
Soil health is particularly important to monitor in Buffalo and other cities with a history of industrial contamination.
“We know that the vacant lots that we’re gardening on, there’s always going to be some risk of contamination because we’re in an urban area,” Koncikowski said.
That’s why recreational Buffalo gardeners shouldn’t plant any produce without testing the soil of their land first, according to DeHonney, and planting in raised beds with non-native soil is always the safest bet.
DeHonney added that the pledge signatories represent the majority of local urban growers who sell at popular farmers markets like Elmwood-Bidwell, North Buffalo, Kenmore and Roswell Park, and she urged local consumers to support them.
“If you really take a look at the prices at farmers markets, it’s really not that much higher [than at grocery stores]. And also, you’re getting produce that was, a lot of times, just harvested that morning or the day before,” she said, “It’s hard to put a price tag on that.”
DeHonney also said most local growers accept SNAP and WIC food benefits.
The full list of urban farms and food producers that signed the new pledge is: 5 Loaves Farm, African Heritage Food Coop, Brewster Street Farm, Common Roots Urban Farm, Flat #12 Mushrooms, Grassroots Gardens, Gro-operative, Groundwork Market Garden, Kubed Root, MAP Urban Farm, Promise Valley, Urban Fruits & Veggies, Vertical Fresh Farms, Westside Tilth Farm and the Wilson Street Urban Farm.
The Buffalo and Erie County Food Policy Council is also a partner in the pledge, and growers will receive guidance on soil health from experts at the Cornell Cooperative Extension.