Urban agriculture

Urban agriculture or urban farming refers to activities that facilitate food production, primarily for sale, in urban environments. Many for-profit urban agriculture ventures use vertical farms, hydroponics, aquaculture, greenhouses, and other efficient systems to maximize the productivity of small spaces. Urban agriculture activities frequently take place on small areas of land such as median strips, rooftops, courtyards, and balconies, and can include edible landscapes, front yard or rooftop gardens, window farming, and hanging plant gardens in home or community settings (Bellows 2004). Aquaculture and livestock ventures in US cities are growing (Golden 2013), but remain less common than in other countries ().

Expected Beneficial Outcomes (Rated)

  • Increased access to fruits & vegetables

  • Strengthened local & regional food systems

Other Potential Beneficial Outcomes

  • Reduced obesity rates

  • Increased food security

  • Increased healthy foods in food deserts

  • Increased earnings

  • Reduced emissions

Evidence of Effectiveness

Urban agriculture is a suggested strategy to increase access to fruits and vegetables and build more sustainable, self-reliant local food systems (CDC-Urban agUSDA-Merrigan 2011Clark 2013Grewal 2012FAO-Food for cities, Bellows 2004, Golden 2013). Urban agriculture is also a suggested strategy to reduce hunger and obesity (CDC-Urban ag, USDA-Merrigan 2011, Clark 2013). Models suggest that many US cities may be able to achieve near self-reliance for fresh produce, poultry, eggs, and honey (Grewal 2012) and case studies suggest that many small scale projects in an area can increase food security overall (Clark 2013, Grewal 2012, Bellows 2004, Golden 2013). However, additional evidence is needed to confirm effects.

Urban agriculture activities may reduce fossil fuel energy used to produce, process, and transport food, and diminish urban heat island effects (CDC-Urban ag). In some cases, urban agriculture activities provide entrepreneurial opportunities, which have been associated with increased income for participants (Kaufman 2000, FAO-Food for cities), as well as greater levels of local business incubation, skills training, and job creation (Golden 2013).

Municipal zoning policies can support urban agriculture activities by designating agricultural districts or specifying certain agricultural uses that are permitted or conditionally approved (Mukherji 2010). Some urban agriculture sites may contain contaminated soil and require remediation before beginning activity (). Price, location, food culture, or lack of interest may also be challenges to successful urban agriculture; mobile food carts or farm stands, marketing foods with taste tests and cooking demonstrations, and youth mentorship may help remove barriers to purchasing healthy food produced by urban agriculture (Hu 2013).

Organized urban agriculture projects are often located in low income, inner city neighborhoods (Kaufman 2000, Golden 2013), which may reduce disparities in access to healthy foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables.

Impact on Disparities

Likely to decrease disparities

Implementation Examples

Many non-profit organizations support urban agriculture efforts, for example, Cultivate Kansas City, which supports a network of farms (CKC), and Keep Growing Detroit (KGD-GID). Some urban agriculture non-profits such as Growing Power in Milwaukee (GP-WI), Greensgrow in Philadelphia (Greensgrow-Urban farm), and Growing Green Urban Farm in Buffalo (MAP-Urban ag) include compost, vermicompost, aquaponics, and livestock on their farms along with outreach efforts such as farmers markets, mobile markets, community supported agriculture and education programs.

The Detroit Black Community Food Security Network works to build self-reliance, food security and justice in Detroit’s Black community through urban agriculture activities and other efforts (DBCFSN-Urban ag). In West Oakland, California, City Slickers Farms provides training, tools, soil tests, and supplies to encourage urban farming and backyard gardening (CSF-Sustainable food). Weavers Way Coop in Philadelphia, PA sells a lot of fresh produce from their own urban farms in Northwest Philadelphia (WWC-Our farms). Plant Chicago, in an old meatpacking plant (Plant Chicago), and Farmed Here, an indoor, organic, vertical farm (Farmed Here), are two examples of indoor urban farms.

State and local legislation can support urban agriculture initiatives. California enacted legislation in 2013, for example, that allows cities and counties to create incentive zones in urban areas for local food production, providing land owners a property tax break for urban agriculture or community gardening activities. Tennessee and West Virginia also enacted legislation addressing infrastructure barriers and liability concerns related to community gardens (NCSL Winterfeld-Obesity prevention 2014). Municipal policies and zoning plans in Seattle (Seattle-Urban ag), Boston (BRA-Urban ag zoning), and Somerville, MA (Somerville-MUAI); and city government agency activities in San Francisco (SF DOE-Urban ag) and Boston (Boston-Urban ag) are examples of local efforts to support these initiatives. 

Implementation Resources

PolicyLink-CGs 2008 - PolicyLink. Equitable development toolkit: Urban agriculture and community gardens. 2008.

USDA-Urban ag - US Department of Agriculture (USDA), National Agricultural Library (NAL). Urban agriculture.

UMO Ext-Urban ag - University of Missouri Extension (UMO Ext). Urban agriculture.

ATTRA-Urban ag - ATTRA. Urban and community agriculture.

PolicyLink-Hagey 2012 - Hagey A, Rice S, Flournoy R. Growing urban agriculture: Equitable strategies and policies for improving access to healthy food and revitalizing communities. Oakland: PolicyLink; 2012.

ChangeLab-Urban ag - ChangeLab Solutions. Urban agriculture.

PAS-Zoning 2016 - Planning Advisory Service (PAS). Planning & zoning for health in the built environment. American Planning Association (APA). 2016.

SRTSNP-Safe routes to healthy foods - Safe Routes to School National Partnership (SRTSNP). Healthy communities: Safe routes to healthy foods.

Citations - Evidence

* Journal subscription may be required for access.

CDC-Urban ag - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Land use planning and urban/peri-urban agriculture.

USDA-Merrigan 2011 - Merrigan KA. Urban agriculture and gardening - Supporting farm viability, building access to nutritious, affordable food and encouraging rural-urban linkages. Washington, DC: US Department of Agriculture (USDA); 2011.

FAO-Food for cities - Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Food for the Cities: Production systems (UPA)

Clark 2013 - Clark KH, Nicholas KA. Introducing urban food forestry: A multifunctional approach to increase food security and provide ecosystem services. Landscape Ecology. 2013;28(9):1649-69.

Kaufman 2000 - Kaufman J, Bailkey M. Farming inside cities: Entrepreneurial urban agriculture in the United States. Cambridge: Lincoln Institute of Land Policy; 2000:WP00JK1.

Grewal 2012 - Grewal SS, Grewal PS. Can cities become self-reliant in food? Cities. 2012;29(1):1–11.

Wortman 2013* - Wortman SE, Lovell ST. Environmental challenges threatening the growth of urban agriculture in the United States. Journal of Environmental Quality. 2013;42(5):1283–94.

Hu 2013 - Hu A, Acosta A, McDaniel A, Gittelsohn J. Community perspectives on barriers and strategies for promoting locally grown produce from an urban agriculture farm. Health Promotion Practice. 2013;14(1):69–74.

Mukherji 2010 - Mukherji N, Morales A. Zoning for urban agriculture. American Planning Association. 2010;27(3):1-8.

Bellows 2004 - Bellows AC, Brown K, Smit J. Health benefits of urban agriculture. Portland, OR: Community Food Security Coalition's North American Initiative on Urban Agriculture; 2004.

Golden 2013 - Golden S. Urban agriculture impacts: Social, health, and economic: A literature review. Davis, CA: UC Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program, Agricultural Sustainability Institute at UC Davis; 2013.

Citations - Implementation Examples

* Journal subscription may be required for access.

GP-WI - Growing Power, Inc.

MAP-Urban ag - Massachusetts Avenue Project (MAP) & Growing Green. Building the local community through food, urban farming and entrepreneurship.

Boston-Urban ag - City of Boston. Urban agriculture

BRA-Urban ag zoning - Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA). Urban agriculture rezoning initiative.

Somerville-MUAI - City of Somerville. Mayor’s urban agriculture initiative.

Seattle-Urban ag - Erickson L, Griggs K, Maria M, Serebrin H. Urban agriculture in Seattle: Policy & barriers. Seattle: City of Seattle Department of Neighborhoods, P-Patch Program, Department of Planning and Development.

NCSL Winterfeld-Obesity prevention 2014 - Winterfeld A. State actions to reduce and prevent childhood obesity in schools and communities: Summary and analysis of trends in legislation. National Conference of State Legislators (NCSL). 2014.

CKC - Cultivate Kansas City (CKC), The Center for Urban Agriculture. Growing food, farms, and communities for a healthy food system.

KGD-GID - Keep Growing Detroit (KGD). Grown in Detroit (GID).

DBCFSN-Urban ag - Detroit Black Community Food Security Network (DBCFSN). About us: Agriculture, policy development, and cooperative buying.

CSF-Sustainable food - City Slicker Farms (CSF). Supporting a just and sustainable food system in West Oakland.

WWC-Our farms - Weavers Way Coop (WWC). Our farms: Community-owned food markets open to everyone.

Greensgrow-Urban farm - Greensgrow. Urban farm: Growers of food, flowers, and neighborhoods.

SF DOE-Urban ag - San Francisco Department of the Environment (SF DOE). Urban agriculture: SF Environment's role in urban agriculture facilitating local food production and opportunities for urban gardening throughout San Francisco.

Plant Chicago - Plant Chicago. Closed loop, open source for sustainable food production.

Farmed Here - Farmed Here. Sustainable indoor farming.

Date Last Updated

Apr 6, 2016