What is urban farming?
People have grown food where they live since the beginning of agricultural practices 10,000 years ago. In many places around the world, cultivating crops and animals in a town or city still contributes a large amount to local food sources. Urban agriculture takes many forms: in backyards, balcony container gardens, or even just the kitchen windowsill. On a larger scale, urban farming can take place in community gardens and vacant lots, or on reclaimed land and spaces that have been converted from other uses.
Urban agriculture touches many aspects of a city’s food production and distribution network. Food that is grown in people’s personal spaces may supplement their everyday diets. Networks of farmer’s markets and connections to organizations like food banks also help to connect people with the food grown locally. However, because urban agriculture can take so many different forms, the potential careers and opportunities to explore in urban agriculture remain to be seen.
What do urban farmers do?
An urban farmer grows food to meet the demand for agricultural products supplied from within, or in close proximity to, the city. Urban farmers touch every aspect of traditional farming: from creating a crop plan to harvest and distribution. However, they may need to adapt their techniques and approaches to solve the unique demands of farming in an urban space, such as a limited access to land. Mélisanne sees the end-to-end nature of the responsibilities as a great benefit: “In other jobs, you are usually in charge of a small portion of a project. Farmers get to do it all, for better or for worse.” Caitlin agrees in farms being inherently entrepreneurial: “If a budding urban farmer owns his or her own farming business, they will also need to have a strong understanding of business planning, budgeting, promotion and branding.”
Urban farmers may touch other industries and areas related to food production, distribution, consumption, and education. Urban farmers may partner with other organizations to increase the overall profile and interest in good, sustainable food, and develop their skills in participatory education, community development and facilitation.
What’s to love about urban farming?
For many urban farmers, the greatest thing about urban farming is its ability to build meaningful connections and relationships between communities and with nature. Caitlin feels that urban farming provides her opportunities to “participate in nature in a way that we can seldom do in cities… I’m building real relationships rooted in dialogue about things that affect our lives.” Being the owner of Sage Rising and engaging in other related food justice and education activities allows her to contribute and participate in the local, ecological, and food and wellness systems where everyone has the means and knowledge to grow, process, sell, buy and share basic, healthy foods.
Mélisanne agrees that urban farming is inspiring, and she gets a lot of satisfaction from seeing the fruits of her labours. “Getting to know how a farm works and to get enough experience to run your own farm is a great.” At the end of the 2012 season, she noted that she had learned so much that could not be replicated in a classroom. “Everybody can grow a plant, whatever the colour of their thumb, so long as they have access to soil, sun, water, and a seed. It’s a really satisfying accomplishment.”
What are the paths to urban farming as a profession?
To figure out where you belong in this still-budding sector, Caitlin believes that perseverance, passion and creativity are key. The paths into this career are different, ranging from full-time farming endeavors to being part-time engagements. To find out more, she suggests attending food and farming events thrown by organizations such as Sustain Ontario, FarmStart, Everdale and Fresh City Farms to network and learn more.
Mélisanne encourages a hands-on approach. “You will need to get your hands dirty quickly in order to learn if it’s a job for you. Internships are very valuable, and finding a mentor is a good way to get support and knowledge.”
Caitlin agrees that farming is physically intensive, so those who are interested in urban agriculture should consider their bodies as valuable resources that require care and attention.
What’s the future of urban farming?
The interest in urban farming is influenced by many factors, including a broader curiosity about where food comes from generally. As interest in local and sustainable food systems continues to grow, interest in urban farming will grow. This will happen, Caitlin notes, especially as “petroleum becomes more scarce and expensive, and as rising population and excess consumption continue to put more and more pressure on global land.”
Mélisanne observes the increasing demand of urban food, necessitating increased participation in urban farming. For example, there is often a lengthy waiting list for access to community gardens, as there are not enough plots of land to accommodate everyone who wants to grow. Still, she says, “As urban farming becomes more visible, it will become part of the urban landscape.” She remains hopeful that farmers will continue in their legacy as a respected profession, supporting and supported by the communities they serve.
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