Farming the City: New Trends in Urban Agriculture

Farming the City: New Trends in Urban Agriculture

Urban Agriculture Serves New Needs by Offering Free FoodAmong the exciting emerging trends in the way Americans are choosing to live in today's market, the growing popularity in urban agriculture makes a lot of headlines. Not only is free food a feature of some urban forests, but residential vegetable plots, farmstands and farmers markets, community gardens and rooftop greenhouses have taken root. All of which matches recent growing trends in more eco-friendly cityscapes. Fresh food in the city is no longer just for self-proclaimed foodies and upscale restaurant chefs. The new mindset takes many forms, and is differently defined in different locales, but there is no denying that a kind of food revolution is in process. City planners, restaurant chefs, food banks, health-care providers and for-profit firms all have a say, and message is clear. Educational institutions, from elementary schools to universities, are supportive, and city governments are increasingly on board.

Free Food in Public Spaces

Begun as a sort of off-beat experiment by a few innovative activists in select locations with long growing seasons, the trend toward free urban food, available to anyone in need, is now a mainstream initiative. American cities as diverse as Seattle, Los Angeles, Detroit and Boston have planted fruit trees in public places, and encourage picking by the public. In other communities, vegetables grow happily alongside flowers in city parks; they are sometimes tended by community groups, classes from local schools or neighborhood churches. They may not encourage harvesting by individuals, but they invariably support local food banks, shelters and soup kitchens.

Seattle's Beacon Hill Free Food Forest was begun in 2012; since then, other food parks have been initiated. In Fort Worth, Texas, the Tarrant Area Food Bank operates a community garden that donates food to local shelters, as well as functioning as a teaching garden. Neighbors and the public are allowed to come and pick for free on selected days—no questions asked. In other cities, the community-building aspect of growing food is as important as the access to good nutrition; health-giving benefits are enough to encourage senior communities and even some hospitals to plant seeds for crops that others can harvest.

Community-Building in Cooperative Gardens

Small suburbs and mega-cities alike recognize the value of gardening to the development of cohesive community spirit in places like Crow Wing County. Such gardens are viewed as teachable enterprises for young children, opportunities for older students and retirees to learn valuable skills, and as ways to provide fresh, nutritious food to underserved communities. In many cases, such gardens are located on vacant lots, or operated in conjunctions with schools, churches and social service agencies. Sometimes, they are supervised by non-profit organizations or as adjuncts to school curriculum.

Homegrown Minneapolis is at the forefront of efforts to promote farming as an authorized use on urban land, and to encourage community gardening and farmstands as well as large-scale production. Changes to the city code in 2012 paved the way for a handful of new and innovative programs. In some cases, the city even issues seasonal permits for urban farmers to access hydrant water when other sources are not available. Eat the Yard, in Dallas, is a unique urban farming endeavor designed to retrain military veterans as well as to supply local, organic produce. Numerous other examples exist in cities large and small.

Farmstands and Farmers Markets

The number of farmers markets in the United States more than quadrupled in the two decades between 1994 and 2014, and statistics show that an increasing number of communities support new markets, farmstands, and local legislation that allows small producers to sell directly to the public. Although oversight and restrictions vary greatly, the hunger for fresh and locally-grown—which often means organic and pesticide-free as well—is evident.

So far, the trends have not impacted existing food markets in a negative way; what has occurred, though, is that some residents of urban food deserts with little access to fresh produce are benefited in positive ways. Proponents of free food forests, cooperative urban farming and innovative agricultural methods see nothing but good—and good food—in the future. Efforts to green the city and feed the hungry seem destined to increase and take new forms in the future. While it may not be exactly big business, it does seem to be a big idea that will change the look of cities nationwide.

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