• Starr at Saltless Sea

What is Urban Farming?

Saltless Sea's urban production garden, spring 2020

I’m so glad you asked!

The simple answer is that an urban farm is a farm within a city's limits. That's it!

But what does that really look like? Urban farms usually won't look like the corn and sow fields you see driving through middle America. Urban farms can be green roofs; indoor hydroponic or microgreen growing systems; or multi-site operations scattered across numerous residential lawns.

Just defining a "farm" can be tricky. When most people think "farm" they envision a family with a big tractor, a red barn and at least one cow. In reality farms in this country (and across the world) are just as varied as the people. Farms range from thousands and thousands of acres producing just a few cash commodity crops (like canola or corn), to operations less than one acre producing 30 different kinds of vegetables for farmers markets.

Does a farm even have to be commercial? The Duluth Community Garden Program's largest site, Cook Home, used to be a "poor farm," a cringey name for a farm growing food for those in need. I would argue that the operation was still a farm, even though it was not a profit-driven enterprise. Novella Carpenter wrote an excellent book Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer, and knows more about producing food in cities than I do, but never describes selling produce in her book. Is a subsistence farmer growing all their own food not a farmer? I think a farmer can be anyone taking food growing to the next level, and producing to feed the community. If that's how we're defining farms and farmers, why not do it in cities? That's where the people are!

For those more interested in legal rather than sociological definitions, the US government says a farm is classified as having $1,000 or more of agricultural products being produced or sold. In recent years the USDA has been slowly ramping up programming in support of urban agriculture, an important step in acknowledging the legitimacy of urban farms. For me personally, the entrepreneurial aspect is what makes me feel like I'm taking my food growing to the level of "farming". Building a sustainable business model is just as important to me as being ecologically sustainable. The fact is, I can't keep supporting the environment through regenerative farming, if my regenerative farm goes out of business.

Here are some links to different urban agriculture operations to help you wrap your head around the concept:

Saltless Sea Urban Farm Tour

That’s me!

Green Roof Farm at Ryerson University in Toronto

Backyard Farm in San Diego, CA

Basement Microgreen Farm in Alberta, Canada

Now you know what urban farming is and have seen some examples. You may be wondering WHY urban farming? I will answer that question in my next blog post! Stay tuned!

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