Final Report: Development of an Urban Food Leadership Coop in Support of a Local Food System

EPA Grant Number: SU834343
Title: Development of an Urban Food Leadership Coop in Support of a Local Food System
Investigators: Francis, Charles , Burbach, Mark , Koehler-Cole, Katja , Matkin, Gina , Quinn, John E. , Quinn, Courtney , Vanwart, Justin
Institution: University of Nebraska at Lincoln
EPA Project Officer: Nolt-Helms, Cynthia
Phase: I
Project Period: August 15, 2009 through August 14, 2010
Project Amount: $10,000
RFA: P3 Awards: A National Student Design Competition for Sustainability Focusing on People, Prosperity and the Planet (2009) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Pollution Prevention/Sustainable Development , P3 Challenge Area - Agriculture , P3 Challenge Area - Energy , P3 Awards , Sustainability


A need shared by all communities is a clean environment that supports a sustainable food system and promotes human health. The current food system does not support environmental, social, or economic sustainability, nor is this likely in the future. Therefore, the challenge is to develop and support a new food system that creates sustainability for people, prosperity, and the planet. Local food systems reduce chemical use and transportation food miles, reconnect consumers and producers, teach people about food, and create a more resilient local economy.

To support a burgeoning urban food system in the Midwest, we designed the Urban Food Leadership Co-op (UFLC). Based on responses collected from local residents, the project addresses the concerns listed by community members. The UFLC will improve the viability of an urban food system by 1) reducing transaction costs and cost of entry, 2) providing focused training for parties with little or no experience in food production and marketing, 3) facilitating the movement of goods into the food system through local farmers markets, and 4) ensuring continued mentoring and support of participants. The UFLC will increase the number of participants in the food system by recruiting part-time market gardeners interested in growing food for both their own families and local food systems.

The UFLC will host education and training workshops to encourage and support the new urban local food system. Participants in the UFLC will be directly involved in providing environmental and social benefits that result in a healthy earth and thriving communities. The Urban Food Leadership Co-op will further the EPA Mission of the Clean Air Act-- Section 103 and the Safe Drinking Water Act--Section 1442 by conducting training and demonstrations that will prevent and reduce air and water pollution through sustainable agricultural practices.

Summary/Accomplishments (Outputs/Outcomes):

The UFLC partnered with an urban neighborhood in Lincoln, NE to research residents’ interest in market gardening as well as barriers residents perceive to growing their own food. A survey was distributed in a monthly neighborhood association newsletter to every household in the neighborhood. Seventy people responded to the survey. Many respondents (n = 44) already grow some of their own produce. However, 49 people said that they would like to grow more or begin gardening.

To determine barriers to backyard food production, respondents were asked what limits their ability to have a garden. For Lincoln residents, space (n=30) and time (n=35) were the most frequent limitations. Space presents a problem in established neighborhoods. However, the responses confirmed our hypothesis that costs of entry, measured as time, to start gardening are seen as prohibitive. Therefore, reducing the transaction costs of urban gardening, essentially saving time, will be essential to increasing urban food production. Respondents indicated numerous resources they use for gardening information. While having access to multiple information sources is a benefit, disparate sources of information contribute to the time barrier.

Other respondents were unsure of where and when to plant (n=16). More than half of respondents said they would be interested in a gardening workshop. Over 30% of respondents would like to work with a gardening mentor. Our survey responses also indicated the existence of a group of people willing to meet this need. Forty-three percent of respondents said they would be willing to share their expertise with others. However, results suggest that there is a lack of a group or formal organization to support gardening efforts in Lincoln. While few respondents were interested in selling their food at a farmers market booth, most (n= 36) were interested in allowing the Co-op to sell their food at a market. It was also suggested by a number of respondents that the food be donated to local food banks.

Information from the survey was used to create workshop syllabi and material that address the problems Lincoln residents face in starting or expanding a garden. In addition, several start-up business plans have been created which can be immediately applied in the local community by entrepreneurs. These plans come complete with the appropriate financial and accounting sheets and step-by-step procedures to establish these businesses. Initially, the more entrepreneurs providing these services the better for all as it will raise awareness and encourage greater consumer participation.


Local food production creates social and economic benefits for both producers and consumers, as well as environmental benefits. Local food production is a means of improving the diet of a community. It has the potential to significantly improve quality of life by increasing the time spent outdoors and potentially with friends, neighbors, and family. While the economic benefits to individual producers might not be large, growing your own produce reduces expenses for food during the growing season (and later, if some of the produce has been stored or canned). Selling excess produce is a way to earn additional income. Market gardening enables people to work from home using existing resources.

Gardens have inherent environmental advantages over lawns such as increased biodiversity. Gardening, however, often uses harsh pesticides and artificial fertilizers and exposes the soil to erosion when cultivated. Our workshops will teach sustainable gardening methods that focus on the reduction or elimination of pesticide and artificial fertilizer use, water-saving irrigation techniques, and improved soil conditions by applying no-till cultivation, fertilizing with manure and compost and using mulch or cover crops to reduce soil erosion. A healthy environment is essential for producing healthy food. Healthy food, in turn, is essential for maintaining the health of people. This project is an example of how improving the sustainability of one system (environment) will also increase the sustainability for other systems (food and people).

Supplemental Keywords:

Midwest, local food systems, sustainable agriculture, periurban agriculture, urban agriculture, market gardeners