At its heart, urban agriculture is simply agriculture in urban areas. Although it’s a relatively new term, urban agriculture has been around for as long as we’ve had urban areas. Whether it’s a fruit tree, small garden, herbs in a windowsill, backyard chickens, flowers, or just a good ole pile of compost, there is a long history of urban agriculture, even if we didn’t define it that way. However, when we dig a bit deeper, there are a lot of significant differences between agriculture and urban agriculture.
Differences between agriculture and urban agriculture
What separates urban agriculture from what we typically think about as agriculture is the smaller, hyper local nature. In almost all cases, food is grown, distributed, and consumed within a few miles. Additionally, these spaces are much smaller than large acre orchards or industrial farms. It would be highly unlikely to have grazing intensive animals like cows or buffalo in an urban setting, but small ruminants like goats or sheep, or poultry such as chickens, are much more common.
Urban agriculture is also built on resilient and sustainable practices that usually do not have outside input, such as synthetic chemicals or heavy machinery. In most cases, urban agriculture is designed to provide everything it needs on site or nearby, or is a part of a system that creates a full cycle. For example, a small urban farm may sell vegetables to a local restaurant that returns food scraps to the farm to create compost. This means the farmer doesn’t need to purchase chemical fertilizers because they will enrich the soil and the plants using nutrient dense compost.
Lastly, there is a big community component to urban farming. Many sites have farm stands on site. It’s also not uncommon for urban farms or community gardens to be meeting spaces, educational spaces for schools, even hosting small concerts or yoga classes. Volunteers are a part of the labor force in urban agriculture. While this would be very rare on a large scale, rural farm, you are likely to see people of all ages and backgrounds in an urban agriculture setting.
What are the benefits of urban agriculture?
Urban agriculture has several benefits over traditional rural agriculture. For starters, urban farms often act as an intricate part of a community’s fabric, serving as a host for nutrients, education, waste disposal, exercise, and giving back. They're often laboratories for sustainable and regenerative agricultural practices, and are usually at the vanguard of community education about ecology and food systems. Although urban agriculture are likely never going to be able to produce enough food to fill up big box grocery stores, they offer significant benefits to any community beyond the production of food, and are an integral part of the suite of food solutions that yield a greener, more just society.
In a time where we need to work together more than ever, urban agriculture can serve as the perfect gateway to building community, ecology, and growing food.