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From Potholes to Produce: Ithaca's Community Beautification Brigade Transforms the City

Updated: Feb 15, 2023

Ithaca, N.Y. — A novel solution to Ithaca's pothole problem has been found, and it involves a little bit of green. The city's Community Beautification Program and the Beautification Brigade are filling the city's potholes with edible plants, creating what they call "food roadways".

These low-maintenance, sustainable arrangements of edible plants are designed to mimic natural ecosystems and provide a pesticide-free source of food for the city's underserved hungry residents. Comprised mostly of perennial plants, there's no need for tilling, weeding, fertilizing, or irrigation.

Thanks to grant funding from the US Department of Agriculture's Forest Service's Community Forest Program, Open Space Conservation, Cornell University, and the Conservation Fund, the food roadways are thriving. And the project has brought more than just a sustainable food source to Ithaca. City officials say the food roadway has been a valuable tool in building community, fostering relationships, and teaching residents about urban agriculture.

Since its inception, the Ithaca Beautification Brigade, a volunteer-run organization, has planted over 500 edible plants in potholes throughout the city, bringing together a diverse group of volunteers from all walks of life. The project has not only been a success in terms of providing food for the hungry, but it has also served as a model for other cities to follow in creating sustainable urban food systems.

City officials hope that the food roadway project will serve as an example of how beautification and environmentalism can be used to solve social issues, such as hunger and food insecurity. The community beautification program's primary goal is to increase the perception of Ithaca as an outstandingly beautiful and sustainable community. With the addition of the food roadways, it seems that goal has been met and then some.

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