Urban Farms are the wave of the future
Urban Farms gaining popularity in major cities
The farm has come to the city. Nationwide, an increasing number of city dwellers are starting vegetable gardens and even raising small animals such as chickens in an effort to save money on groceries and out of a concern about where their food is grown, whether it’s free of contaminants and how far it’s transported. Proponents of New Urbanism see local food production as a vital feature of future residential and mixed-use communities. In response, city and county officials are seeking ways to promote and regulate urban agriculture without hindering its growth.
Obesity and diabetes are serious health concerns for children of all ages. In January 2004, Pediatrics magazine announced that nearly one-third of U.S. children aged 4-19 eat fast food daily, resulting in approximately six extra pounds of weight per year. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over the past three decades, the childhood obesity rate has more than doubled for preschool children aged 2-5 years and adolescents aged 12-19 years, and it has more than tripled for children aged 6-11years.
Urban gardens – also referred to as community gardens – are seen as an important way to combat unhealthy diets, especially that of children. There are an estimated 10,000 community gardens and one million households involved with community gardening efforts within the U.S. The popularity of these gardens has increased as communities and enlightened community and government leadership realize the environmental, economic, cultural, and social benefits of community gardens. In cities, many gardens have been started on vacant lots and in decrepit urban areas that become functioning places of fertility and regeneration. In some cases, neighbors rent small plots of land to grow their own vegetables.
In the last 10 years, communities such as Los Angeles have increasingly sought alternative food sources to packaged and commercially processed food readily available in supermarkets. The farmers markets are a source for local products, and thus create a lively community of local businesses. In contrast to large industrial farms, local farmers play an important role in maintaining variety by producing and selling a diverse range of fruits and vegetables. This also allows farmers to test new varieties and sell ripened crops or sell in small quantities.
Because it’s healthier, urban agriculture is gaining even more popularity in Los Angeles. Now there are more than 90 Certified Farmers Markets in Los Angeles County from Alhambra to Wilmington. And this is happening around the country, not just in LA. The number of farmer’s markets in the U.S. has grown from 1,755 in 1994 to 3,200 in 2004.
In addition to addressing health concerns, locally sourced food is also important for a sustainable environment. Purchasing produce from local farmers in the area or within a 100 mile radius reduces transportation costs, fuel emissions and eliminates packaging waste. Studies suggest that the average food item in the U.S. travels some 1,500 miles before being consumed, an unnecessary waste of time and energy.
Los Angeles is not the only place where we see this community gardening trend. The American Community Gardening Association (ACGA) has seen a nationwide surge of interest in community gardens, according to Bobby Wilson, ACGA president. Miami officials are overhauling the city's zoning ordinance to include new laws regulating community gardens, rooftop gardens, greenhouses and backyard gardens. Milwaukee, WI, began leasing five lots in a central city neighborhood that had been left vacant by foreclosures for use as community gardens as part of an effort to revitalize faltering areas. Miami officials are overhauling the city's zoning ordinance to include new laws regulating community gardens, roof top gardens, greenhouses and backyard gardens. One change would add community gardens to the list of projects supported by a developer-funded public open space fund. “We're looking at ways to add urban agriculture,” says Luciana Gonzalez, assistant to the planning director, “because it helps build a sense of community, encourages people to live healthier lifestyles and it provides educational opportunities for children to learn where food comes from.”
NEW IDEAS FOR DISTRIBUTING FRESH PRODUCE
To help farmers bring their produce to the urban marketplace, Mia Lehrer and Associates has created a concept they call “Farm on Wheels.” The idea is to use low-carbon vehicles to distribute locally grown produce that farmers bring to a centralized Farmers Distribution Market. There, a trained market staff decides whether individual foods should be sold on-site or put on the produce trucks that are assigned individual neighborhoods throughout the city. This concept recently won top honors at a design competition sponsored by GOOD magazine, The Urban & Environmental Policy Institute, CO Architects, The Los Angeles Good Food Network, and AN. “Farm on Wheels” is growing in popularity in Los Angeles and in other urban areas.
With this "Farm on Wheels" concept and other creative distribution methods, consumers can buy fresh produce that is picked close to or on the day of sale, rather than processed food products shipped across the county or ocean over the course of weeks. This alternative to supermarkets provides many benefits for both the consumer and the farm, and agriculture in general. Farmers, shoppers, residents and our nation’s health all benefit from the social, economic, and cultural benefits of farmers markets as they bring people and products together.
Mia Lehrer, FASLA, is the president of Mia Lehrer and Associates, a full-service, international landscape architecture practice. Under the leadership of Mia Lehrer, the firm has been responsible for the design and development of a diverse range of public and private projects ranging from regional projects such as the LA River Revitalization to individual custom homes. With an emphasis on place-making and community collaboration, the firm is a recognized leader in the field of sustainable design and has been responsible for site design on LEED certified projects at all levels.
Some useful links:
Urban Farming Food Chain Project – A partnership between Green Living Technologies and Emslie Osler Architects, this organization constructs “edible” food-producing wall panels and mounts them on buildings. The people who tend these vertical gardens use them for their own purposes (ie. produce is not sold commercially.) They currently have four locations in and around downtown Los Angeles.
Silver Lake Farms - Launched in 2004, Silver Lake Farms just began a Community Supported Agriculture program (CSA) offering subscribers a weekly box of fresh produce, grown locally in Silver Lake. They also hold workshops on how to start your own vegetable garden, and sponsor a volunteer program that connects urban residents with local farms, community gardens, and homesteads to help out with some of the work.
Market Makeovers – Responding to the poor level of access to fresh fruits and vegetables in their communities, South L.A.’s Healthy Eating, Active Communities initiative and Public Matters have teamed up to engage young people and convert corner stores into sources of healthy foods via an online toolkit.
Urban Homestead, Pasadena – An advocacy group for self-sufficient city living via farming and homesteading. This family-owned operation was started in the mid-1980s on a 1/10 acre backyard plot. Most of the produce is sold to local restaurants and caterers.
Urban Farming Advocates - Formed in June 2009, Urban Farming Advocates (UFA) is a group of individuals, small business owners and organizations seeking to legalize urban farming in the City of L.A. Their goal is to revise outdated ordinances that restrict people's freedom to use residential land for urban agriculture.