Urban agriculture is a great new practice that’s helping reconnect city communities with healthy food. More and more Americans are promoting urban farming initiatives that promote healthy eating, create economic opportunities and maximize innovative use of existing land. As research in this area increases, more people now have the resources needed to start their own small-scale urban farms.
Urban farming is not just a preserve for American cities. Global urban centers such as Singapore are investing millions of dollars in feasible agriculture within the city. The practice has been promoted as an organizational strategy and comprehensive approach that is helping support and engage individual neighborhoods. Urban farming opportunities are also creating self-reliance and exposing youth to intergenerational interactions.
New resources for urban farming
Throughout 2016, new tools and comprehensive literature for urban farming was published, pointing to the increasing popularity of this practice.
The U.S Department of Agriculture (USDA) published its Urban Agriculture Toolkit, which provides details on technical assistance, funding opportunities, as well as useful resources from local, state and federal partners. One of the key areas that this toolkit focuses on is urban planning. Whether launched by a non-profit, cooperative, sole proprietorship or any other for-profit business, any urban farm needs a business plan. Other areas of focus include access to land, water access and use, soil quality, infrastructure, capital and financing, production strategies and market development.
In October 2016, the National Center for Appropriate Technology published its High Tunnels in Urban Agriculture, a useful resource that identifies the clear benefits of using high tunnels in urban farming. The guide suggests that by using high tunnels, urban farmers can reduce risk and maximize profitability. It explores the basics of building a high tunnel and tackles common zoning challenges that urban farmers often face. The resource also discusses the management of high tunnels, covering areas such as irrigation, soil fertility, pest and disease control. There’s also an additional section on intensive crop production.
The Urban Agriculture Act of 2016 by senator Stabenow was announced in Flint and Detroit. This piece of legislation will help forge fresh economic activities, increase the availability of healthier food for families, and contribute to healthier city environments. The Act addresses the needs of city farmers by launching new resources and boosting the flexibility of existing USDA programs. The bill covers areas such as farm cooperatives, growing systems (e.g. indoor and rooftop), research funds, market opportunities, and new technologies.
The Johns Hopkins Center for Livable Future published its Vacant Lots to Vibrant Plots literature review in May 2016. This review revolves around the following themes:
- Changing face of agriculture with urban farming as an increasingly popular trend
- Urban farms as sources of additional, healthy produce
- Social benefits of city farming
- City farming and environmental friendliness
Over time, the City of Detroit has established itself as a leading center for urban agriculture. Ti was the first US city to launch urban farming programs that focused on helping the homeless and assisting city residents who were facing economic troubles. In 2014, the Detroit urban agriculture space was worth at least $3.8 million. It’ll be interesting whether this increased availability of resources will challenge cities that are still in the dark to embark on urban farming initiatives.