These 3 grassroots movements are bringing people together through food

If a city manages to provide all its residents with fresh, local, and healthy food, then that city has leapfrogged toward an inclusive and equitable society: such is the level of importance of food in a city. Food not only forms an integral part of human activity, but also of the economy. What is the role of cities and citizens in creating a resilient food system?

There is a greater interest in creating more resilient cities where residents produce what they need, in order to minimize waste and dependency on industrial-scale food production and retailing. This, combined with individual interest to learn and reconnect with the food system, has given rise to a number of urban and community gardens. This bottom-up movement of urban agriculture is also seeking a structural support by policy makers. Several grassroot communities around the world are finding innovative ways to distribute the surplus food grown or cooked which otherwise would go to waste. —Khushboo Balwani

 Activating the Urban Commons

1. League of Urban Canners: Stewarding Urban Orchards

Planting an urban fruit tree is more than a lifetime commitment — it is an intergenerational civic responsibility. Each summer, in Greater Boston, a huge amount of backyard fruit falls to the ground and sidewalk, where it rots and creates a mess. Property owners and municipalities are often pressured to remove these "nuisances," while many urban residents are struggling to access local and organic food sources. The League of Urban Canners has developed a network of individuals to map, harvest, preserve, and share this otherwise wasted fruit. They make agreements with property owners to share the work of fruit harvesting and preserving, as well as tree and arbor pruning. The preserved fruits are shared between property owners (10 percent), preservers (70 percent), and harvesters (20 percent). Each season the completely volunteer-run enterprise harvests and preserves about 5,000 pounds of fruit from a database of more than 300 trees and arbors. Myriad acts of cooperation sustain this urban commons, in which harvesters, property owners, preservers, and eaters learn to share responsibility, resources, and care for each other and their urban environment. —Oona Morrow

2. Restaurant Day (‘Ravintolapäivä’): Fostering Cross-cultural Gatherings Through Shared Meals

In big cities, people of many different cultures live in close proximity. However, there often aren't enough chances for them to intermingle and experience the diverse traditions within their city. In an effort to bring people together and foster cross cultural interaction, local organizers in Helsinki, Finland, created "Ravintolapäivä," or Restaurant Day. Initiated in 2011, it began as a food carnival where anyone with a passion for food was encouraged to run a "restaurant" in their private home or in public spaces for a single day. Even though the pop-up restaurants charge money for the meals, the emphasis is not on profit, but rather on community teamwork and cultural exchange. During the event, Helsinki is transformed by hundreds of these informal restaurants serving a wide range of cuisines in this city-wide street festival. The event is put on through distributed organization — individual volunteer restaurateurs are responsible for finding a location, managing the menu and invitations, and setting the meal prices. Now, Restaurant Day has become a global movement, with over 27,000 pop-up restaurants having served over 3 million community members across 75 countries. —Khushboo Balwani

3. Kitchen Share: A Sustainable Community Resource for Home Cooks

Kitchen appliances can be superfluous uses of money and cupboard space, especially for city residents with tight budgets and small homes. Yet interest in healthy eating is growing. More people are trying out unusual food preparation techniques, which can require unique appliances. Kitchen Share, launched in 2012, is a kitchen tool-lending library for home cooks in Portland, Oregon. It enables community members to borrow a wide variety of kitchen appliances such as dehydrators, mixers, and juicers. Members can check out over 400 items online using affordable lending library software from myTurn. With two locations in Portland, Kitchen Share helps residents save money, learn new skills from neighbors, and reduce their environmental footprint. As a nonprofit community resource for home cooks, Kitchen Share only asks for a one-time donation upon joining, providing affordable access to otherwise expensive and bulky items while building a more resource-efficient city. Learn about starting a lending library with this toolkit.—Marion Weymes

These three short case studies are adapted from our latest book, "Sharing Cities: Activating the Urban Commons." 

Header image provided by Artur Rutkowski on Unsplash

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