Farm to Table 2050: The Power of Hyper-Local Native Perennial Edible Crops in Re-imagining Food Supply, Demand and Culture
Utilizing an array of food system stakeholders, we will lead a strategic program to integrate specialty crops into the mainstream urban diet
Lead Applicant Organization Name
New Brooklyn Farms, Benefit LLC
Lead Applicant Organization Type
Farmer Co-op or Farmer Business Organization
If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.
Plant Group, LLC
Website of Legally Registered Entity
How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?
Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?
Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?
Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?
Prince George’s County is an approximately 500 square mile peri-urban area located in the southeastern portion of Maryland, bordering Washin
What country is your selected Place located in?
Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.
From the ages of 4 through 18, Doug Adams grew up in Prince’s George’s County, Maryland and has operated two urban farms located in Mt. Rainier, MD and Hyattsville, MD via his company New Brooklyn Farms, Benefit LLC in the county since 2016. His mother and immediate family also live in the area.
Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.
Prince George’s County has a population of 905,161 and is ethnically diverse -- predominantly Black (572,465), followed by White (170,009), “Some other race” (96,031), and Asian (38,811). Latinos make up 17.4% of the population. The median age is 36.5 (2013-2017 American Community Survey).
Prince George’s county has higher rates of weight-related chronic illnesses than Maryland overall. The 2015 “Healthy Food for All Prince Georgians” report released by Prince George’s County Planning Department showed residents in urban areas and inside the Capital Beltway had significantly higher rates of diet-related illnesses and higher rates of food insecurity than other parts of the county.
Nationally, Prince George's County is famous for being the most affluent majority African-American county in the country. Locally, it's often seen by outsiders as a morass of poverty and bad schools. Neither one of these descriptions fits the county as a whole.
According to the 2012 Census of Agriculture, there are 347 farms in Prince’s George’s County, accounting for 32,607 acres (with the average farm size at 94 acres). The top crop item (in acres) are corn for grain (4,653), forage-land for hay, grass silage, and greenchop (2,609), soybeans (2,398), wheat (1,531), winter wheat (1,531). Principal farm operators are predominately White males.
What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?
Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.
As of 2020, we see the predominant food challenge to be inequitable access to fresh, healthy foods for residents across the entire socioeconomic spectrum, with a notably higher presence amongst low-income residents. This issue is predominantly related to Diets, Economics, and Culture. However, given the environmental impacts of the industrial agriculture system associated with producing processed foods, it is also an issue of Environment.
Should no radical action take place to address this inequity, we believe 2050 will be marked by a significant amount of the urban populated burdened by obesity, diabetes, and other food-related illnesses.
PG County’s food culture is largely defined by a few interrelated factors: a heavy influence from and association with the hyper-urban Washington DC lifestyle, longstanding status as a predominantly African-American populated county (one of the wealthiest in the country), and the prevalence of diet-related chronic health diseases in its most urban areas.
In contrast to more predominantly rural parts of Maryland, the holistic culture of PG County is heavily influenced by that of Washington, DC. Like most major metropolitan areas in the United States, comprehensively higher costs of living (housing, transportation, food) contribute to a more competitive, high-stress and time-scarce lifestyle - especially for those with lower incomes.
Nationally, rates of food-related disease and illness run higher in majority African-American neighborhoods. In turn, poor eating habits are borne from a dependency on the fastest and most readily available food sources: carry-out and fast food restaurants - which account for more than 55% of all retail food outlets inside the beltway in PG County.
Currently, the majority of agriculture practiced in the area is industrial, using heavy machinery that compacts soil, relying on external inputs (fertilizer, irrigation), and planting crops as monocultures. Monoculture cropping systems (especially those under regular tillage and lacking cover cropping) are at risk of soil erosion, due to harvesting and tillage effects and exposure to the elements).
The practical challenge to addressing runoff pollution involves reducing soil erosion, reducing artificial fertilizer inputs and building soil organic matter, improving soil structure. Our vision for agriculture in PCG approaching 2050 involves soil perennial cropping systems, polycultures, ethnic crops, and soil organic matter (SOM) and soil organic carbon (SOC) monitoring over time.
The current challenges facing agriculture in PCG include runoff pollution, lack of crop diversity, and lack of farmer diversity. The agricultural challenges of 2050 will be marked by the need for new methods and technologies of crop management and harvesting.
Finally, there is the socio-cultural challenge of how to introduce novel foods into the urban diet.
Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.
Our vision is to radically change the way people eat in Prince George’s County (PCG). This starts by what is grown and how the land is stewarded in the county. The current agricultural paradigm of growing wheat and soybean as monocultures is not suitable (both from an environmental and community food perspective). By growing native edible perennials, and working closely with food and beverage producers in the area, our hope is to create new healthy foods which can be introduced into the community in an accessible and affordable manner.
By focusing on perennials which are adapted to the local environment, we hope to provide a more regenerative and sustainable model for food production in PCG. This will be accomplished primarily through reduction of agricultural inputs (characterized by the current farming paradigm), including irrigation along fertilization, as well as through soil stewardship (by reducing tillage as well as soil compaction).
We believe that the community food workshop model we plan to pilot at the farm on 909 Hill Road, Hyattsville, MD can be a pathway for innovating around the technologies and best management practices BMPs needed to adapt towards a 2050 supply chain capable of handling greater crop diversity along with perennial cropping systems. For example, assignments and activities from a workshop around pruning or foraging should empower participants to envision new techniques and tools, while documenting their experience for future stewards.
In Phase 1, the socio-cultural challenge of adopting novel foods will be addressed through branded partnership with food/beverage businesses and culinary visionaries, including restaurant, food influencers, research institutions and distributors.
One of the tools we will use to increase local engagement with new foods at 909 Hill Rd is a community food forest open to the public, paired with guided foraging tours from our network of food visionaries. Participants will learn how to identify, prepare, and cook perennials, native plants, and ethnic crops growing at the New Brooklyn food forest. The goal of these educational workshops is to create a decentralized community stewardship model to sustain the food forest.
Phase 2 is about developing the technologies, toolkits, educational resources, and documentation of BMPs to create scalable supply chain models that can be implemented in other parts of the country. All activities at 909 Hill Road (including design, construction, business models, marketing materials, and educational workshops) will be documented and made available online through a suite of urban farming educational materials. Novel technologies developed and deployed by PLANT GROUP (capacitance sensors, image analysis, machine learning) will be used to document field-level environmental conditions and soil organic carbon (SOC) over time.
High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.
In parallel to a notable evolution of modern society’s relationship with the broad concepts of diversity and sustainability – we believe that currently heighted intrigue, sensitivity, and sheer demand for their propagation in most significant areas of humanity will proceed to manifest in the realms of food production and consumption.
In the United States, the fabric of colonialism and capitalism have undoubtedly shaped cultural norms, sub-cultures, and outgrowths. Our country’s reigning food systems and markets at large are perhaps some of the most prime examples of this impact. The average strip mall or food court in the most suburbs all over the country represent an economically thriving institution and homogenous cocktail of the prominent immigrant cultures documented equity in the shaping of modern “American” food culture.
A trend toward increased interest and demand in local food, and disruption of longstanding business and stakeholder narratives of agriculture have created conditions for a widely unprecedented food future.
In the context of the food culture in Prince George’s County MD, we believe that the high rate of economic development and underused farmable space will allow for a major opportunity to appeal to a set of stakeholders (chefs, restaurateurs, “foodies”) who will have a strong interest in increasing diversity in crop type and grower demographics, and facilitating curation and integration of these specialty crops into local recipes and menu offerings.
In order to achieve meaningful breakthroughs and tangible influence in respected food circles, new taste profiles will need to be interwoven into a variety of food and beverage offerings. There is a strong precedent of targeted marketing efforts defining cultural food trends. For example, the recent surge in popularity of kale, pomegranate, and avocado are all due to concentrated marketing / PR efforts.
Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?
By 2050 we expect communities throughout PCG to have a greater awareness around the importance of soil health and management. This will be achieved through educational workshops, marketing from food visionaries, community work events, and press coverage around the local environmental benefits of soil stewardship. We also expect a wider and more general interest from PCG residents in urban agriculture and plants in general. Our hope is that the decentralized, community-centric model of the food forest will serve as a prototype for the creation of more shared food spaces across the county. Documentation of management practices and crop quality, combined with decades of sensors data, will enable us to generate a systems-based approach towards designing, building, and monitoring similar food systems in PCG and elsewhere.
How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?