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Syracuse Grows leads the way to 'food justice'

Volunteer-driven grassroots organization works to promote access to fresh, locally-grown food across the city's social strata.

Urban farming is becoming a prominent solution to the problem of food security and the sustainable development of urban vacant lots in Syracuse. Local non profit organization Syracuse Grows is focusing on ways to ensure that people have access to nutritious, affordable food. 

"Syracuse Grows is just part of a larger movement," said Susan Adair, Syracuse Grows board member and independent program evaluation consultant. "Rochester has a big community garden at work, Binghamton, Albany, New York City[...]This is part of a national movement of growing your own food, organic, nutritious food, of getting in touch with your food source, meeting the farmer, eating better."

Photo: Ana Barbu

Video: See the Syracuse Grows Community Garden Resource Drive and Clean-Up on April 16.

The Syracuse-based organization has promoted food justice -- or the right to access food and help people have access to fresh produce -- since 2008, according to founding board member Evan Weissman.

The nonprofit is an offshoot of the Syracuse Hunger Project and was created in collaboration with Syracuse University's Department of Geography and some of the community's emergency food providers, he said.

One was the Samaritan Center, which helped draw the lines of Syracuse's hunger landscape and helped identify where food was available. Later, people became interested in food justice, Weissman said.

Member gardens, such as the Southwest Urban Community Farm at 100 Bellevue Ave., are located strategically in "food desert" areas.

"[A food desert is] about people not having a grocery store or decent produce available within at least a mile of where they live," Adair said.

During Syracuse Grows' annual public meeting in March, community members and gardening aficionados exchanged seedlings and discussed gardening with likeminded people. Meanwhile, the citywide Third Annual Community Gardening Resource Drive and Clean-Up in April provided community gardeners compost and seeds. Both events enabled people to expand their knowledge and experience with community gardening.

One of Syracuse Grows' greatest goals is to enable people in poor neighborhoods to adopt gardening and urban agriculture as a way of life.

"We get to help people help themselves," Adair said. "It's like teaching someone how to fish, instead of giving them the fish."

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