Food production in urban areas – urban agriculture – is increasing, in both the United States and around the globe. More of us live in cities, and more of us want to grow food where we live. A focus of urban agriculture is how to grow more food in less space, which might mean raised beds, hoop houses and even shipping containers. Soil safety is important, since many urban areas have an industrial history. And unlike many of their rural counterparts, urban farmers are seeking to produce a variety of crops, and thus need to know “a little about alot of varieties in order to make the most of small growing spaces.”
Where can urban farmers turn to for help? Many of them are turning to their state land-grant universities, which have primarily served rural agricultural interests, but are increasingly working with urban agriculturalists as well.
There is only a single land-grant in the nation that is exclusively devoted to urban interests, and that’s the University of the District of Columbia. Mchezaji “Che” Axum runs its 143-acre research farm in Beltsville, Maryland (coincidentally, the site of the USDA’s National Agricultural Library, which might be considered the nation’s ag equivalent of the Library of Congress). The farm provides demonstration areas showing the diverse ways urban agriculture can work in communities. There are orchards, fish farming and greenhouses. The farm also serves as the headquarters for the area’s Master Gardener Program.
They focus on some of the vital challenges of the urban setting: climate change, food security, hunger, obesity prevention,” says Ahlishia Shipley, social science specialist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture, which helps fund land-grant programs.
But, she says, the urban extension’s biggest challenge is getting the word out “that you’re there to help.”
A fabulous must-read piece about how land-grant institutions are evolving to meet the changing needs of the nation’s citizens.
The University of California is actively engaged in a range of exciting work in support of urban agriculture, and is fielding advisors to support community work in this area. The effort is part of the UC’s Global Food Initiative, which seeks to address one of the most compelling issues of our time: how to sustainably and nutritiously feed a growing world population.