What are urban farmers doing for their communities?

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Urban agriculture is not all about food; farms can harvest rainwater, use compost, develop leadership and job skills for participants, provide valuable knowledge about nutrition and the environment, economic opportunities, and create safe, green public spaces for communities to grow (Design Trust for Public Space, 2012). In my last post, I explored the impact of urban farms. Here, I will provide some examples of cities and people that are creating innovative new ways to contribute to the urban agriculture revolution.

Growing Power is one of the leading urban agriculture organizations; Will Allen started Growing Power as an opportunity for teens to work in his greenhouses to benefit the landscape of Milwaukee. Now, Growing Power is a national organization that incorporates a huge variety of agricultural and community projects such as worm soil composting, aquaculture, bee keeping, and permaculture. They sell produce to neighbors that have low-access to fresh food and engage hundreds of youth and students with seminar and volunteer opportunities (Mukherji & Morales, 2010). They are currently working on a program to provide healthy snacks to Milwaukee public schools (Mukherji & Morales, 2010).

In Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood, the Chicago Department of Housing and Economic Development’s Green Healthy Neighborhood Initiative aims to transform an old railroad into a trail that connects a number of urban farms and parks (Rotenberk, 2012). The railroad goes through the South Side of Chicago, an area suffering from divestment, population decline, and abandoned lots.

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The new ERA (Englewood Rebuilding America) trail would provide the neighborhood with real food and jobs. This project also raises the opportunity to break down racial barriers and preconceived notions about “health food”. One neighbor said, “Urban farming is a white, liberal, hippie movement that found itself in the black community,” but, “the black community is seeing the opportunity,” (Rotenberk, 2012). Farms such as demonstrate that the food movement is our way to take control of our food and future.

In Durham, North Carolina, another impressive innovation for urban agriculture has sprouted. The Farmery is an urban market that grows food and sells food in the same place. Indoor agricultural systems can grow a variety of lettuces, mushrooms, herbs, and other produce. Customers pick their own food and buy it right from the source. The Farmery consolidates the food system and provides a new way to connect with the food we buy and eat (Greene, 2013).

There are also a number of mobile farms that can transport the freshest food to any location in need. These operations demonstrate that the food system does not have to be cut and dry. When we stimulate the local food economy, amazing, new things can happen. It is the responsibility of local governments to establish clear policies about urban agriculture. Zoning policies should describe clear regulations about land use, bee keeping, and livestock use for urban farms (Mukherji & Morales, 2010). Cities have the power to facilitate the productive use of abandoned lots and express a commitment to food sovereignty and sustainability.

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Greene, Benjamin. (2013). The Farmery. Planet Forward. Retrieved from: http://www.planetforward.org/idea/the-farmery

Metrics Framework. (2012). Design Trust for Public Space. Retrieved from: http://www.fiveboroughfarm.org/about/

Mukherji, N., & Morales, A. (2010). Zoning for Urban Agriculture. American Planning Association, (3). Retrieved from: http://www.planning.org/zoningpractice/2010/pdf/mar.pdf

Rotenberk, L. (2012). Chicago’s urban farm district could be the largest in the nation. Grist. Retrieved from: http://grist.org/food/chicago-urban-ag-farm-district-could-be-the-biggest-in-the-nation/

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