urban agriculture policy
The tale of the crash of the Detroit auto industry and subsequent decimation of the local job market, mass exodus of residents, eventual city bankruptcy has become a great American tragedy. But amongst the ruins of a once thriving metropolis, residents are sowing seeds of hope in the schools and the community.
Since 2010, Detroit Public School officials have been forced to shutter more than 70 schools due to budget cuts and dwindling enrollment. Some have been sold in the struggle to balance the collapsing city budget. But one former school is getting a new life as an urban farm with the help of the Michigan State University Extension and one very dedicated “lunch lady.”
It’s no surprise that San Francisco has a strong urban farming community—and it’s one borne of the efforts of local government working closely with community groups.
San Francisco has implemented supportive city plans, policies, and codes that help facilitate urban agriculture within the city, according to Eli Zigas, Food Systems and Urban Agriculture program manager at SPUR. SPUR, a non-profit organization, promotes good planning and government in the San Francisco Bay Area.
With a community garden program established in 1973 and sustainability planning devised in 1994, Seattle has a long history of sustainable urban agriculture. Today, Seattle paints a realistic picture for how cities can approach sustainable urban agriculture, illustrating both the limits and possibilities of a local food economy in the nation’s urban centers.
Several city departments help drive Seattle’s sustainable success including the Office of Sustainability and the Environment and the Department of Neighborhoods. Numerous city and private programs encourage urban agriculture, gardening, shared space, environmental preservation and community involvement. Access to local healthy food plays a big role in the city’s planning. By supporting community gardening and backyard farms, Seattle allows its residents to become not only more self-sufficient, but more educated, more aware and more community-minded.
“Farm” is no longer a four-letter word in Kansas City—and it hasn’t been since 2010 when the city passed a zoning ordinance allowing citizens to grow food in residential areas. Prior to the ordinance, it was illegal to grow food for profit in areas zoned residential. This made operations difficult for urban farmers, especially those whose business models revolved around growing food within the communities they sold to.
Kansas City urban farmer and educator Steve Mann played an integral part in the passage of the ordinance, along with other leaders in Kansas City’s sustainable agriculture movement. Mann, who is the site developer for the sustainable agriculture nonprofit Cultivate Kansas City and a gardening educator for Food Not Lawns Kansas City, says that both farmers and city officials were eager to work together to make Kansas City more urban farm-friendly.
With just over half a million residents, Portland is a small northwestern city with long roots in sustainability and urban agriculture. In 1981, an urban growth boundary was approved for the city forcing a dense population into a restricted space and transitioning the city into a space savvy social economy. Popular Science name Portland the most sustainable city back in 2008. Today, Portland remains a 400-square mile haven for sustainability enthusiasts and avid gardeners.
It is said it takes a village to raise a child. And what does it take to raise a commercial crop of leafy greens on a vacant lot in Boston? A different kind of village—one that includes experts practiced in the art of land tenure.
By bringing together such experts, the Trust for Public Land is helping to facilitate urban agriculture in the City of Boston. Back in 1972, the organization’s founder, Huey Johnson, recognized that negotiating land deals calls for expertise in law, real estate and finance. The trick to open space preservation, as he saw it, was to employ the strategies of modern business. Forty some odd years later, TPL has seen through over 5,300 parks and conservation projects in the majority of the nation’s states as well as Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
The City of Milwaukee is rife with urban farming organizations, like the venerable Growing Power, non-profit groups like Walnut Way and for-profit organizations like Sweet Water Organics and Central Greens. All of these groups have have helped shape Milwaukee into a national leader in the local food and urban agriculture movement.
According to an Urban Agriculture Code Audit recently conducted for Milwaukee by the United States Environmental Protection Agency, Milwaukee’s urban agriculture scene has grown to a point where there is now an immediate need for expanded processing centers.
The audit also found that while the city’s Building and Zoning Code provides a good foundation for facilitating urban agriculture, the code should be updated to allow for beekeeping aquaculture, and chicken keeping, and should be further developed to create standards for and accessory structures and uses like food processing and composting.
Where does your food come from?
For years, residents of Denver, Colorado may have scratched their heads over that question, because most of the city’s food supply was sourced from elsewhere. Recently, however, stakeholders in the private and public sectors collaborated to help food growers prosper within the Denver metropolitan area.
Some stakeholders have their hands in the dirt, teaching urban agriculture methods and building community gardens. Others are working behind the scenes to change the laws governing land use in Denver. All are working toward a goal set by Mayor Michael Hancock in 2013 to acquire at least 25 percent of the city’s food from “sources produced (grown and processed) entirely within Colorado,” according to the Mayor’s 2020 Sustainability Goals.