What Is It?

Urban agriculture/urban farms refer to many types of small and mid-sized agricultural operations designed to serve urban communities. This includes community gardens and farms located in urban areas, as well as those outside of urban areas that serve urban populations. This tool addresses urban agriculture efforts focused on serving low-income communities and communities of color. These urban agriculture projects can improve access to healthy, affordable food for low-income communities and improve residents’ health. They can also provide supplemental incomes and in some cases local jobs, build job skills and confidence for youth and people transitioning from homelessness or incarceration, revitalize neighborhoods, increase community economic development, reconnect communities with their cultural traditions and skills, and make productive use of vacant land.

The concept of urban agriculture in the United States is not new. In the 1940s nearly 20 million people planted “victory gardens” to lessen the strain placed on the U.S. food system during World War II. During this time, the government rationed food such as dairy, sugar, meat, coffee, and canned goods, but labor and transportation shortages made it difficult to harvest fruits and vegetables. Victory gardens were encouraged as a way for communities to provide for themselves and do their part on the home front. These victory gardens accounted for 44 percent of the fresh vegetables produced in the United States. Citizens planted these victory gardens in their backyards, empty lots, and even on city rooftops. Neighbors joined together to pool their resources, plant different types of crops, and exchange their food with one another. The victory garden program was a federal program that utilized state extension agencies to provide seed, fertilizer, and simple gardening tools for victory gardeners. When the war ended, government promotion of victory gardens did also. However, over the past several years an enthusiasm for urban gardening has been revived. In 2009, First Lady Michelle Obama planted a White House garden as part of her Let’s Move Initiative. See here for a video describing the White House garden.

Urban farms can be planted on private or public property including vacant lots, city parks, churchyards, schoolyards, and rooftops and on land owned individually, by a community group, institution, municipality, land trust, or other entity. This tool will help you understand the opportunities urban agriculture brings, the main challenges to starting an urban farm or garden, and how challenges can be overcome.