Rochester Food Sovereignty: Grow Your Own Food and Buy from Local Farmers

by Elizabeth Henderson

To disentangle your diet from the tentacles of the global chemical-industrial food system, you can practice what world peasants of La Via Campesina call food sovereignty. You can grow at least some of your own food and buy the rest from area farms or from stores that buy from them. Buying from a farm may be less convenient than shopping at a grocery, but we will not shift from corporate capitalism to a solidarity economy until we all help make it happen.

Gardening in Rochester. If you own property, zoning allows you to garden; if you do not, the city will grant you a free permit to use a lot or you can join an existing community garden. The City’s Department of Recreation & Human Services provides free starts, vegetables and flowers, compost and a few other supplies for community gardens. There will be a plant swap at the Public Market on May 31 from 4:00pm to 6:00pm. The Cornell Cooperative Extension, Taproot Collective and the Urban Agriculture Working Group all provide workshops and training in how to garden.

Magnolia Street Children’s Garden

Buy Local. There are several farmers markets around the city where you can buy directly from area farms: Westside Market (starts in June, 831 Genesee St., Tuesdays from 4:00pm – 7:00pm), South Wedge Market, (starts in June, 357 Gregory St, Thursdays from 4:00pm – 7:00pm) and Brighton Farmers Market (starts April, Brighton High parking lot, Sundays from 9:00am – 1:00pm). All of these markets participate in the FreshConnect program run by NYS Agriculture and Markets – with EBT (SNAP) you can buy tokens. For every $5 in EBT, you get an extra $2 in tokens.

You can also use FreshConnect at the Public Market. Most of the food sold there is not local or organic. There are a few organic stands – Small World Foods runs a cooperative stand that sells produce from several local organic farms as well as their own fermented products.

Foodlink has pop-up markets – the produce is local, but not much of it is organic. For the location of rotating sites call 211 or visit

It is not too late to join a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm. With a CSA, you become a co-producer by agreeing to share the risk of farming and paying in advance or in installments for an entire season of produce from the farm. You can pick up your share from Mud Creek Farm when you join Peacework CSA at the Abundance Coop (571 South Ave). Wild Within near Brockport offers pay-what-you-can weekly orders that you can pick up on Thursdays from 4:00pm – 6:00pm at Flower City Noire (383 West Ave).

Shop at Stores that Carry Local Products. The only cooperatively owned store in our area is the Abundance Coop. Since much of the food Abundance sells is certified organic, prices tend to be high. But as the saying goes, you get what you pay for. Abundance also carries many non-organic items. If you keep an eye out for the “Coop Basics” signs, you can purchase basic staples at affordable prices. In addition, Abundance has a special program for people with limited incomes – FLOWER (Fresh, Local, Organic and Within Everyone’s Reach) – an everyday discount program that is designed to lower the cost of most of the food and eco-friendly products in the store.

Some of the corporate groceries carry local produce too, mainly when a particular crop is in season. Keep in mind that when selling to you, groceries double the price that they pay to the farmer. When you buy direct, the farm gets the full price, and with a CSA, you share the risk so that if a disaster occurs, the farm will still be in business the next year. CSAs make every effort to give you enough food despite the wild swings in the weather.

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