Midway through spring, the nearly bare planting beds of Carolyn Leadley’s Rising Pheasant Farms, in the Poletown neighborhood of Detroit, barely foreshadow the cornucopian abundance to come. It will be many months before Leadley is selling produce from this one-fifth-acre (one-tenth-hectare) plot. But the affable young farmer has hardly been idle, even during the snowiest days of winter. Leadley is a key player in Detroit’s vibrant communal and commercial farming community, which in 2014 produced nearly 400,000 pounds of produce – enough to feed more than 600 people – in its more than 1,300 community, market, family and school gardens.
In developing nations, city dwellers farm for subsistence, but in the U.S., urban ag is more often driven by capitalism or ideology.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture doesn’t track numbers of city farmers, but based on demand for its programs that fund education and infrastructure in support of urban-ag projects, and on surveys of urban ag in select cities, it affirms that business is booming.
Despite their relatively small size, urban farms grow a surprising amount of food, with yields that often surpass those of their rural cousins.
These farms may increase their revenue streams by selling at farmers markets or to restaurants, or they may collect fees from restaurants or other food-waste generators for accepting scraps that will be converted into compost, says Ruth Goldman, a program officer at the Merck Family Fund, which funds urban agriculture projects.
“But margins on vegetable farming are very slim, and because these farms are doing community education and training teen leaders, they’re not likely to operate in the black.”
Few would begrudge Ayer her loss leader, but such practices can undercut for-profit city farmers who are already struggling to compete with regional farmers at crowded urban markets and with cheap supermarket produce shipped from California and Mexico.
Nodding toward her backyard plot, Leadley says, “I grow those vegetables because they look good on the farm stand. They attract more customers to our table, and I really love growing outdoors.” But it’s the microgreens that keep Leadley from joining the ranks of the vast majority of U.S. farmers and taking a second job.
Mchezaji Axum, an agronomist with the University of the District of Columbia, the first exclusively urban land-grant university in the nation, helps urban farmers increase their yields whether they are selling into wealthy markets, like Leadley, or poorer markets, like Ayer.
On a miserable March morning, with a sparkling layer of ice glazing a foot of filthy snow, a coterie of Chicago’s urban farmers toils in shirtsleeves and sneakers, their fingernails conspicuously clean.
Is CEA the future of urban farming? It produces a lot of food in a small space, to be sure.
Focusing on these high-value crops, urban farmers both feed themselves and supplement their incomes.
In the U.S., urban farming is likely to have its biggest impact on food security in places that, in some ways, resemble the global south – that is, in cities or neighborhoods where land is cheap, median incomes are low and the need for fresh food is high.
Considering the size and global nature of the nation’s food supply, she says, urban agriculture in our cities “Isn’t going to make a dent. And it’s completely inefficient, economically. Urban farmers can’t charge what they should, and they’re too small to take advantage of economies of scale and use their resources more efficiently.”
This is an autogenerated summary from a published source: Urban farming is booming, but what does it really yield?
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