Today, we bring you a post from Olivia Lindsey, a senior at Penn State University studying Community, Environment and Development, and one of the Pittsburgh Food Policy Council interns. After visiting several urban farms in the Pittsburgh area, Olivia delves into what someone wanting to start an urban farm needs to consider.
Pittsburgh is not new to the practice of urban agriculture. People use urban ag as a strategy to provide healthy and fresh food options to areas with typically low access, usually caused by the combination of low income and living in a food desert.
Luckily for the residents of Pittsburgh, there are a few organizations doing their part to increase food access for local neighborhoods. For example, there's Garden Dreams Urban Farm and Garfield Community Farm, as well as Grow Pittsburgh who has urban farms at multiple locations, including the Shiloh Peace Gardens and Braddock Farms.
PSU and NE SARE staff visit Garfield Farms, an urban farm featuring hugelculture, a food forest high tunnels, hope garden, cob oven, and a nearly completed bioshelter.
If you've ever caught yourself thinking about how great it would be to start a small-scale farm in your urban area, there are a few things to take into consideration.
First, what is the quality of the actual land where you would want to plant your crops? These environmental factors come simply with the territory of living in an urban area, especially one with such a long history of industry.
How good is the soil itself? Most spaces used for farms were once the site of old buildings or factories, which can mean contamination and low fertility. The cost of soil testing and actually improving the soil, through composting, can be an issue.
The quality of the air also plays a role. In extreme cases of poor air quality, traces of dangerous residue can appear on the surface of produce.
Second, are there any political considerations to take into account? Whether the land is publicly or privately owned is very important. For urban farming, operating on vacant or abandoned land may make the most sense. Because urban farms improve quality of living through better food access and aesthetic improvements, they may attract developers into the area. If developers are offering the right amount, the farmers can be evicted and their land sold.
The benefits that urban farms bring to a community are undeniable. Their presence allows neighborhood residents to buy healthy and fresh food usually at manageable costs as well as provide youth development opportunities through community engagement and internships. There are farms here in Pittsburgh that offer adult apprenticeships as well.
Shiloh Peace Garden, Braddock Farms, Garden Dreams and Garfield Community Farm have shown that urban farms, done correctly, can have long-lasting positive impacts on low-access communities.
Braddock Farms supplies a low cost SNAP benefit market and sells through Penns Corner Farm Alliance, as well as running a teen internship program.
To ensure success, consider these four things:
- Create flexible space- Urban agriculture is limited by the space that is available. Because most plots of land are small, it is important to utilize the space effectively. Keep in mind how the farm will need to operate depending on the weather, time of year, and stage of production (seedlings to harvest).
- Create partnerships with other local businesses or groups- Large-scale farms have the capacity to be self-sufficient, but this is not always the case for small-scale urban agricultural. There are many organizations that complement each other in both goals and services. In all cases, reciprocity is the key to successful partnerships.
- Identify the key issue- Poor food access is usually accompanied by a secondary problem. Many families struggling with food access may not know what to do with the fresh produce once it becomes available. Consider addressing this problem by providing cooking lessons or recipe cards when selling produce.
- Keep in mind the sustainability of your project- If your operation is funded mainly through foundations and grants, what happens if these funds become unavailable? Because of this, many urban farms have two customer bases: local restaurant and neighborhood residents. Finding a good balance between selling to local businesses for profit and serving the nearby residents is critical.
For more information on urban farms in the Pittsburgh area, you can visit:
Shiloh Peace Gardens- http://www.growpittsburgh.org/what-we-do/we-grow-food/frick-greenhouse/
Braddock Farms- http://www.growpittsburgh.org/what-we-do/we-grow-food/braddock-farms/
Garden Dreams- http://www.mygardendreams.com/
Garfield Community Farm- http://www.garfieldfarm.com/