5 ways urban farming is innovating agriculture

The roof garden atop the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/wallyg/ Some rights reserved.

UPDATE: Last fall, the New York Times wrote about the struggle to find people to do all this urban farming:

There is some evidence, in fact, that the bulk of New Yorkers do not have an unlimited appetite for growing their own kale. Official counts of New York gardens are fragmentary. But John Ameroso, the Johnny Appleseed of the New York community garden movement, suspects that the number of present-day gardens — around 800 — may be half what it was in the mid-1980s.


If you think people in rural America are excited and inspired by the local food movement, dig what your Big City friends are up to.

Stories about urban farming are everywhere, and there's good reason. More than 50% of the world's  population lives in cities – that's where the mouths to feed are. And because of their density, cities are where sustainable innovations can have the biggest impact.

For the big picture and the potential, check out this must-see video by the American Society of Landscape Architects (sure, they have plenty to gain from this):

All that hope and change has to be tempered by reality. Soil contamination, lack of support in the farm bill (the what?), and zoning issues all are big challenges for urban farmers. Heck, even little ole' Canton is treading likely as it weighs green-lighting farming and raising chickens in its residential areas.

But urban agriculture is at the nexus of climate change, sustainable food systems, immigration, and massive demographic shifts of population. Here are five innovative ideas that are, if nothing else, pretty darn cool:

  1. Homeowners can transform their lawns into gardens. This one is wicked controversial in many places (remember the battle over Jason Rohrer's lawn in Potsdam?). But the potential is incredible. Mark Bittman looked at a goal of turning 10% of America's lawns into gardens: "Ten percent is optimistic; even 1 percent would be a terrific start,"Bittman writes, "because there is a lot of lawn in this country. In fact it’s our biggest crop, three times as big as corn, according to research done using a variety of data, much of it from satellites. That’s around a trillion square feet — 50,000 square miles.
  2. Chicago is actively training urban farmers through a three-year program as a part of its "incubator network."
  3. A New York Times article that teaches you how to use straw bales as soil has become a big hit.
  4. Folks in New York City are "adopting" their neighborhood bodega to "improve access to fresh, affordable foods."
  5. Cornell has developed a guide to urban farming that teaches everything from rooftop farming to beekeeping.

There must be urban farming projects aplenty across Upstate New York and beyond. We'd love to hear what they are here on The Dirt. Even if they're in "urban-ish" village settings of rural areas, let us know what you're working on! Hit us in the comments section.



  1. Here in CANTON, we are working on getting more "inclusive" language adopted into our TOWN code to ALLOW sensible food production/distribution in residential zones.
    Any urban and suburban agricultural activity taking place (from Portland Maine to Portland Oregon and everywhere in between) is because of Food Activists challenging an antiquated perception of food production, distribution and consumption.
    These political actions are not over, the struggle to feed ourselves and our neighbors continues all across the land including right here, in our own backyard.

  2. It is not just the local food movement that is spurring this on. It is the need and desire of communities to have nutricious fresh food that is close to home. As dollars get stretched tighter in an effort to pay bills, people no longer want to spend those dollars afar. It is important to understand that food purchased close to home and grown by someone you know has more value simply by means of being part of our lives. We all live here together and food is the most common way in which people share time and contact. Why not start right from the source, our own back yards, or a local farmer's. Recently on NPR there was a show where a woman said that fresh air, fresh water, and fresh food were no longer rights, but luxuries. Urban farming, and local food sharing systems, like what goes on in Canton are not luxuries, but necessities and the right of each person to grow food, have good food, share that food, and live by that food. It is a sad comment on the views of local government that do not value the interaction involved economically, socially and emotionally between a grower of food and those that buy or share it. It is as though we believe that Farmers need to be relegated to the outskirts. How long can you go without food in your community?