Central New York district promotes growing food instead of lawns

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By Marissa Phelps

In 2019, the Cortland County Soil and Water Conservation District (CCSWCD) located in Central New York was awarded funding through the National Association of Conservation Districts’ (NACD) Urban Agriculture Conservation (UAC) Initiative to develop a new program promoting urban agriculture and natural resource conservation.

“Fresh Connections: Promoting Urban Agriculture and Natural Resource Conservation” is intended to support local food and urban agriculture initiatives within the city and establish a viable long-term role for the district in urban agriculture conservation. Urban agriculture provides multiple benefits beyond the primary goal of growing food, including improving community nutrition, improving aesthetics and real estate values, opening economic development opportunities, and improving stormwater runoff.

The district has sponsored a workshop mini-series covering topics such as Gardening 101, which took place in April, Growing Food and Raised Beds, which took place in May, followed by Life in the Soil: Digging Deeper on soil health and composting in June. Three more workshops in the series are planned for summer and into fall on Harvesting and Preparing, Preserving and Indoor Container Gardening as the district encourages city residents to “Grow Food, Not Lawns.” CCSWCD is also beginning an eight-week gleaning and food donation program, set in place to utilize all the harvest at a local farm and to benefit local food charities.

Brian Tobin, Mayor of the City of Cortland, proclaimed Urban Agriculture Weekend in the City of Cortland from June 8-9, 2019. The district sponsored a free plant giveaway for city residents, assisted by the mayor and local county legislator, and held a tabling event at a local produce market with free seeds and plants.

The Cortland Youth Bureau and Main Street Farms have been instrumental in delivering the workshops. Attendees at the raised beds workshop helped build three new raised beds at a local park to provide fresh, healthy produce for local children to cook new creations.

CCSWCD hopes through this initiative more residents will learn how food is produced, how simple it can be to grow their own garden including conservation practices, and maybe just start one, right in their own backyard.

Marissa Phelps is the conservation aide with the Cortland County Soil and Water Conservation District and can be reached at marissa.phelps[at]cortlandswcd.org.

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