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Change Comes to Dinner: How Urban Farmers Are Changing Our Cities

All over the U.S., urban residents and companies are growing food for sustenance and profit.

Submitted by: Guest Contributor

Posted: May 07, 2012 – 12:42 PM EST

Tags: agriculture, sustainability, food gardens, entrepreneurship


By Katherine Gustafson

As city dwellers across the U.S. develop an interest in fresher, more local, and more sustainable food, innovative methods of producing food in urban areas multiply. These enterprises take all forms, from nonprofit urban gardening programs serving low-income residents; to massive farm businesses restoring blighted city blocks; to high-tech aquaculture companies producing food on rooftops.

There are thousands of urban-ag projects of many kinds blooming in towns and cities all across the country and serving a variety of nutritional and social needs.

Organizations like City Slicker Farms in West Oakland, California, demonstrate the potential of urban agriculture to help correct an imbalance that has developed in many cities — that of fresh food’s availability in wealthier neighborhoods and relative paucity in inner-cities.

The organization maintains seven community market farms totaling less than an acre, which collectively produce 7,000 pounds of food a year to be sold at a central market stand to West Oaklanders at risk of food insecurity and malnutrition.

City Slicker Farms The organization also helps local families set up food gardens in their yards, providing free materials — planter boxes, soil, seedlings — as well as two years of free guidance from a volunteer mentor.

On the other side of the urban-ag spectrum are those companies working to find ways to turn a profit growing food in urban landscapes. These businesses can capitalize on city-dwellers’ desire for fresh, local food and thriving neighborhoods energized by local living economies.

Mike Yohay, who was named one of the Ten Most Inspiring People in Sustainable Food by Fast Company in 2010, is the founder and CEO of such a company—Cityscape Farms, a fledgling enterprise working to install aquaponic greenhouses on San Francisco’s rooftops.

Aquaponics combines aquaculture (raising aquatic animals in tanks) with hydroponics (growing plants in water) in a symbiotic system. Once it is fully established, Cityscape Farms will produce and supply local shoppers with fish and greens that are as fresh and local as one can get.

While the San Francisco Bay Area is clearly well represented in urban agriculture, cities around the country are cultivating many such enterprises.

Detroit is a prominent example; residents there have appropriated large tracts of abandoned city land toward a widespread, creative urban farming experiment. Plots of all sizes sprouting foods of all kinds — from humble community gardens to what will be the world’s largest urban farm established by investor millionaire John Hantz — have emerged across the city.

Cityscape FarmsAnd everywhere else around the U.S. — whether in Richmond, Virginia, Seattle, Washington, Tucson, Arizona, or anywhere in between — city residents are growing food close to home.

This surge in urban agriculture may mark the start of a profound shift in our convictions about what kind of food — and accordingly, what quality of life — is best suited to urban centers.

As Barbara Finnin, CEO of City Slicker Farms, told me:

“Normal right now is McDonald’s, for rich people and for poor people and everybody in between.”

But it wasn’t always that way, she continued:

“‘Normal’ used to be that you had your meat market and your veggie market. If you have urban centers that have gardens, it’s refocusing what’s normal and what you want to advocate for.”


Katherine Gustafson is a writer and author, whose book about good news in sustainable food, Change Comes to Dinner, publishes tomorrow [May 8,2012] by Macmillan.            

The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by CSRwire contributors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of CSRwire.

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