Jac Smit, 80

Urban agriculture advocate Jac Smit, 80

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Jac Smit, 80, the founder and a former president of the Urban Agriculture Network, a nonprofit organization that promotes the practice of growing food staples in small, city-based gardens, died Nov. 15 at his home in Washington. He had metastatic cancer.

In the late 1990s, Mr. Smit's organization was awarded a grant from the U.N. Development Program to investigate urban agricultural farming around the world. Mr. Smit's findings, published in 1996, said that the millions of people from Nairobi to Mexico City who had even a small yield of crops were less likely to be malnourished and unhealthy.

Mr. Smit served as an adviser on dozens of urban agricultural projects, including in Bogota, Colombia; Karachi, Pakistan; Jakarta, Indonesia; and Port-au-Prince, Haiti; and also in refugee camps in Bangladesh and Tanzania.

John William Smit was born in Ealing, near London, to a Dutch immigrant family. The family moved to Rhode Island when Mr. Smit was an infant and later spent time in Illinois, Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

Mr. Smit graduated in 1952 with a degree in ornamental horticulture from what is now Farmingdale State College in New York. In 1961, he received a master's degree in city and regional planning from Harvard University.

From 1963 to 1967, Mr. Smit worked as a project planner in Chicago before joining the Ford Foundation for three years as an adviser to the metropolitan planning organization in Calcutta, India.

Mr. Smit first started working with the United Nations in 1972 as a director in Bangladesh with the International Rescue Committee. From 1975 to 1978, he helped plan agricultural development projects in cities on the Suez Canal.

Mr. Smit moved to the Washington area in the early 1980s. He spent time in Egypt, working for the U.S. Agency for International Development, before being hired by the Japanese government to help plan a renewal project in Baghdad.

In 1992, Mr. Smit founded and became the first president of the Urban Agriculture Network. He stepped down as president this year.

Mr. Smit was a member of the Hash House Harriers, a running organization.

His marriage to Justine Pascale ended in divorce.

Survivors include his wife, Elise Fiber Smith of Washington; two stepsons, Guy Smith of Minneapolis and Greg Smith of Beaufort, S.C.; two brothers; and seven grandchildren.

-- T. Rees Shapiro

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