Wouldn’t it be nice to walk around the block to find a fruit & vegetable stand? Your neighbor has turned a big backyard into an urban farm and you can get fresh veggies very close to home. This is not a dream. It’s happening in cities and towns across America.
Why? I think it’s a combination of the ideals of some and the needs of many.
I recently wrote a piece calling for more young farmers to take up growing fresh food. One way to jump-start new farms is to develop an incubator-training farm. Here’s another way: Encourage people to start urban farms.
City Grown Seattle’s mission is to promote “food grown in your neighborhood.” With acres of farmland not available, vacant lots, unused backyards, and overlooked spaces were identified. Then partnerships were formed, veggies were planted and neighborhood farm stands appeared. Land partnerships grew between growers and some homeowners who don’t want to or can’t garden, plus some homeowners decided to farm their backyards to earn extra income.
Even in agricultural California, cities like San Jose, Sunnyvale, Oakland, and Richmond have organized and encouraged urban farms. A group called GRUB ( Grub in Chico) is our nearest example of urban farming that not only provides tons of food to local residents but also makes money selling at the Farmers’ Market.
These examples demonstrate that farming and city living are compatible. Urban agriculture is a way to improve health and access to local produce as well as to put vacant land back into productive use. Most backyards already have fencing and water, making them almost garden ready, but they may not be big enough to stand alone as farms. If neighbors form clusters of mini-farms, they can coordinate the growing, using, and selling of their fruits and vegetables in farm stands. Another way is for a farmer to exchange produce for permission to grow food on several backyard plots, a variation of a neighborhood community supported agriculture (CSA) system.
Of course you’ll ask, “Why farm in cities?” I see several advantages beyond the better taste factor: More fresh food is available a walk away. Local food produces twice as much income for the local economy than food trucked in. Neighborliness is enhanced with the interchange between growers and eaters. Children have more opportunities to learn about fresh food right in their neighborhoods. Because of rising food costs, more lawns will be changed into kale and tomato beds.
It’s time for Redding people to think about how to encourage urban farming. Here are some ideas to think about:
- Stage a Mayor’s Food Garden Contest: Awards for the most productive, the most beautiful, the most water efficient, etc.
- Form an advisory team to identify public and private land that could be gardened–schools, government buildings, parkland, vacant lots, etc.
- Set up a website for connecting growers with landowners.
- Enlist city support for soil testing (urban areas are often high in unwanted chemicals), water rate reduction, farm stand locations, etc.
- Introduce or change fees and regulations that would make it easier to farm and set up stands in an urban setting.
- Assign a person from the Parks and Recreation Dept. to coordinate urban farming activities.
- Create a bucketful of financial incentives to transition from unused land to productive mini-farms.
- Cooperate with the UC Cooperative Extension that provides expertise on small farms.
- (Put your ideas here)
As we head into this New Year and a changing climate, it’s time to try something new. Although I had Redding in mind as I wrote, mini food farms would fit perfectly into rural areas such as Palo Cedro, Bella Vista, Anderson and Happy Valley.
Enjoy growing your food in 2015.
Wayne Kessler is the former owner of Shambani Organics, former Peace Corps volunteer, and founding member of Growing Local.