Serious Eats

The Urban Farming Debate

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Two of the biggest environmental concerns these days are climate change and sustainable food production. Urban farming has been touted as a solution to both problems. Small-scale agricultural operations have taken root across the country's metropolises, particularly on roofs and in other under-utilized city space. These farms could decrease carbon dioxide levels in the air, lower heating and cooling costs for buildings, and increase access to fresh food for city residents.

In some cities, zoning makes it difficult to start up a farm even if you find the space and time to do so. In response to this common complaint, Gavin Newsom, the mayor of San Francisco, recently proposed legislation to relax zoning laws pertaining to urban gardening. The new laws would allow gardens in all parts of the city, and would allow the sale of produce from these gardens as well. While advocates are still working on maximizing the benefits of this legislation for farmers, the proposal is a big step for the city.

Several cities have considered similar zoning changes to accommodate gardens, though San Francisco is the first to move towards implementation. The ability to sell produce means that farmers can grow not only for themselves, but for their neighborhoods as well. There are few more immediate or effective ways to increase access to fresh foods in underserved communities than to encourage this sort of small business activity.

Urban farming is also making strides on the other side of the country, in New York. BrightFarm Systems, an urban agriculture development firm, is opening a rooftop greenhouse in Brooklyn in 2011. This project is expected to be the first urban hydroponic farm in the world. Its produce will be branded and sold throughout the city. The Economist recently penned a piece indicating this hydroponic method as being perhaps more competitive and feasible than vertical farming, another proposed model. The article takes an analytical eye to vertical farms, and is an interesting read for those interested in methods of urban agriculture.

For those wishing to grow more food but don't have the time or patience for a full garden, there are several options. Window farming allows for minimal space usage and maximum sun exposure for plants. If traditional gardening is more your style, services like Home Grow Micro Farms will deliver pre-planted vegetables to your door.

Becoming a home grower is easier now than ever before, with tons of information and resources available online.

About the author: A student in Providence, Rhode Island, Leah Douglas loves consuming and learning about as much food as possible. Her work is also featured in Rhode Island Monthly Magazine. She blogs at Feasting on Providence.

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