Here’s an idea that seems custom-made for Ithaca: upscale restaurants buy local produce grown by homeless persons living and working on urban farms using sustainable practices. It’s an idea taking hold throughout the nation in response to calls for more locally-grown food and the growing population of inner-city homelessness.
Miami has watched the number of homeless drop from 8,000 a decade ago to less than 1,000 today, Reuters reports. With private and federal help, the city built a 145-unit apartment complex with a 22-acre organic farm supplying fruits and vegetables to area restaurants.
“This should be done in many other places, it’s sustainable, it’s local and it’s organic,” said chef and Tuyo restaurant-owner Norman Van Aken.
Along with locally-grown food, the effort both gives homeless persons a place to live and an actual job. In Miami, apprentices at the urban farm earn $10 an hour and pay 30 percent of their income to live in the apartments. The key is both finding homeless persons a place to live but also a job.
Chicago’s Growing Home Inc. now offers internships on three urban farms. Austin, Texas is also investigating how they can adapt the concept to their city.
In Ithaca, we have a thriving number of restaurants using locally-grown produce. (The nonprofit group Get Your Green Back Tompkins has a list of participating eateries.) The area also is deeply-committed to farmers’ markets and community agriculture.
The missing component: solving the homeless question. City services are already overwhelmed with persons needing assistance. The Red Cross and other shelter agencies use “The Jungle” as a defacto resource for the overflow. The outdoor encampment of tents and lean-tos ironically, sits in the shadow of some of the icons to American consumerism: Wegmans, Walmart and other big-box retailers.
The city is a hub for environmental activism, ranging from sustainable lifestyles to eco-friendly homes. However, the practices focus primarily on saving the planet; people are an after-thought.
What Ithaca should get behind is a melding of environmental activism and saving our throw-away society — including its people. Perhaps an EcoVillage for the homeless that grows, then sells its produce to Ithaca’s vast list of high-end restaurants? People who are down-and-out should not just be given a roof over their head, but a way to restore their pride. That’s a form of recycling we can all get behind.