- Associated Press - Friday, October 31, 2014

LARAMIE, Wyo. (AP) - Justin Michael Frazier thinks of food in Laramie as a puzzle.

Some residents, for example, buy all their food from a supermarket. Others might be full-fledged subsistence farmers.

“You have folks who grow herbs in pots,” the University of Wyoming graduate student said. “You have homesteaders, and you have the people who grow vegetables in a 150-square-foot private garden - and everybody in between.

“It’s all important because all together, the puzzle pieces come together, and that’s the whole food picture.”

Frazier wants to contribute to the knowledge of the whole food picture in Laramie.

To that end, he designed a thesis project to study how residents use their private land for gardening.

The study aims to gain insight into two overarching questions: “How much space are people using in their yards to garden and produce food?” and “What are some of the challenges to gardening in Laramie?”

Frazier created a questionnaire for Laramie residents to answer those questions.

When the project is complete, he plans to share the data with local gardening organizations and anybody else who wants it, as well as craft policy recommendations to make private gardening easier in the community.

“I need to hear what the challenges are,” Frazier said. “If I really want this to be good, in terms of helping people, I really need to hear from them, so that way I can tailor the recommendations. That’s what I hope this is going to lead to - that it is going to give me a clearer picture, so I can say, ‘OK, these are the barriers people here are facing. Now, how, within the context of Laramie, can I help address those issues?’”

As simple as the notion of gardening may be, Frazier said there’s something powerful in producing your own food. It’s a concept he’s been immersed in all his life.

Frazier came to UW in the fall of 2012 to pursue a master of arts in geography.

Before coming to Laramie, he worked for 14 years at a farm-to-market store in Virginia Beach, Virginia, his hometown. The face-to-face interactions he had with local farmers, fellow employees and customers affected his view of food production and consumption.

“It really made a big impression on me, working in that store,” he said. “I was about 15 when I started. And it was a really, really small store; it wasn’t one of these big chains. There were five employees. I was right there with the people coming in. I would meet the farmers. I would go out to help pick things. So, to see that on a really personal level .” He recognized it as a good thing.

In addition to that, his parents always had an at-home garden.

“We grew lots of our own food,” he said. “Even to this day, my father is growing over 70 percent of his own food. So, that’s really what I come from.”

Taking a historical perspective, Frazier said in the last century food production was largely decoupled from food consumption. Rather than harvest their own food, in other words, people went to the supermarket and paid for it.

Lately, however, people have begun to recognize that the decoupling created waste and health problems, Frazier said. The result is a growing number of people returning either to private food production or buying food closer to home.

Frazier said he wants to help usher that trend along. The way to do that, he said, is act locally.

When Frazier got to UW, he began reviewing scientific literature on gardening. He found much written about health benefits related to growing your own food as well as community gardens, but there was little written about private gardening in and of itself.

In the void, Frazier saw an opportunity to perhaps contribute something worthwhile - not to mention, the study also fit into his work as a geographer.

“As a geographer, we study how people relate to space,” he said. “If my overall goal is to try to make it easier for people to be able to grow and raise food on their land, then I really have to know the issues that they’re facing here. What’s going to work for folks in Hampton Rhodes, where I’m from, is not necessarily going to fit for folks in Laramie or someplace else. So, in that sense, it’s great for a geography student, because place matters, and every place is different.”

The first part of the survey - which is anonymous and doesn’t ask for identifying information - asks residents questions about their property size, how much of it is dedicated to gardening and the like.

Frazier said this section is intended to gain baseline data on the degree to which locals are gardening and producing food on private land.

The second section of the survey asks residents to identify barriers to gardening. These could be anything from city ordinances to lack of knowledge to challenging growing seasons, he said.

Combining the two sections should give insight into the extent of private gardening in the community as well as challenges and opportunities to producing food on private land in Laramie, Frazier said.

“You can fit in however you want to, and it’s all valuable,” Frazier said. “Even if it’s just an apple tree, that is a step toward you having control over some of the food that you eat, and that is a really powerful thing.”

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Information from: Laramie Boomerang, https://www.laramieboomerang.com

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