“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.
Local urban farmers in Detroit have recognized that the whole is often greater than its parts—and so they’ve combined forces to strengthen the local food scene and their own bottom lines.
Six Detroit farm businesses have combined to create City Commons, a cooperative in which members support the six farms with a purchase of seasonal shares of fresh produce and other farm products. Members receive a weekly box of fresh-from-the-farm, organically grown food that has been raised entirely within Detroit’s city limits. The coop model is advantageous for customers who like a wide variety of seasonal fruits and vegetables. It’s also advantageous for independent farmers who are trying to make a living exclusively by farming—especially those who share a passion for fresh, local food for an urban population.
Founded in 2010, Seattle’s Alleycat Acres currently consists of three small farms that serve their surrounding communities not only with a place to reconnect with their food source, but also a shared space to regain the meaning of community in the urban setting.
Scott MacGowan is one of Alleycat Acre’s original founders, focusing on educational programming and logistics for the current and future farm plots.
“There is a cultural shift that has to happen,” says MacGowan. “People need to start growing more food, have more community get-togethers and share resources; more of those traditional farming practices. We’ve got to figure out ways to bring it back. And by negotiating with private landowners for abandoned residential lot use, Alleycat Acres is doing just that.
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.
As a nation enamored with the marvels of capitalism, it is little wonder that worker-owned cooperatives (businesses owned and controlled by their workers) have not managed to capture much attention in the United States. There are, in fact, 300 worker cooperatives in the United States, but most of them remain relatively unknown or misunderstood by the general public.
Our Harvest Cooperative is a union worker-owned cooperative started in 2012 by the Cincinnati Union Coop Initiative. The Cincinnati Union Coop Initiative, which emerged in 2009, is a collaboration between Spain’s Mondragon Worker-Owned Cooperatives and the United Steelworkers—two organizations that came together with the goal of duplicating the success of Mondragon in the United States. Mondragon, founded in 1956, is now the seventh-largest corporation in Spain and remains a model for successful worker-owned cooperatives throughout the world.
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.
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.
Higher Ground Farm founder John Stoddard is all about moving on up—especially when it comes to urban agriculture.
In 2012, Stoddard wrote a guest post for Seedstock highlighting the potential of rooftop farming. At the time, he and his business partner, Courtney Hennessey, were searching for a roof space to farm. They’ve since started farming on the roof of the Boston Design Center, a 55,000 square foot space in South Boston, and completed their first farming season in 2013.