The slow but steady increase in interest of urban agriculture could be a great thing for many US cities. The US Department of Agriculture’s Conservation Innovation Grants program or CIG recently awarded the city of Chicago a 1 million dollar grant to explore urban farming. The program named “Growing for Chicago” will help to create an urban agriculture corridor where potential urban farmers could establish business. The city of Chicago proposed that it would construct “a urban farming system [with] a cohort-based model to assist high-potential farmers in establishing business; preparing and placing more land into trusts or cooperative tenure arrangements…” They also stated that they would hire an urban agriculture coordinator with the money.
In the past, farming has been done out of the way of civilization. Large farms took over Middle America where population was less dense. In New Jersey, farming is done far away from the coastal port cities like Newark and Elizabeth. These cities, which were formed around heavy, “dirty”, industrialization lack the beauty that agriculture provides. But today, agriculture is moving back into the cities. Local governments use urban agriculture as a tool to address many financial, health, and environmental issues.
The article “Zoning for Urban Agriculture” prepared for the American Planning Association describes many different types of urban agriculture projects, non-profits, regulations, and policies. According to the article cities play multiple roles in promoting urban agriculture. Cities include urban agriculture in the planning process as “a component of land use and food policy.” They also use it to “establish programs and organizations” and they hope to create urban agriculture zoning and permitting processes.
Philadelphia had similar issues when setting up their city for agriculture. Urban agriculture was not even recognized as a land use by Philadelphia’s Planning Committee until August of 2012. This new concept of farming in areas previously designated to be used for industry or commercial purposes has forced cities to change their zoning regulations and land uses. Although the concept of agriculture in an urban environment seems like a positive addition to cities, it creates issues within the cities policies for zoning. In Philadelphia they saw the many benefits of urban agriculture and created a new zoning code that permits the use on all parcels of land, but the use still requires permits for each individual lot. Therefore the individual applying for the variance must go before the planning board in a public hearing to get their approvals, all while fighting the neighbors and other businesses that are trying to keep their city from changing.
There are many clear benefits to urban agriculture. It reduces the distance food must travel on trucks, beautifies the city, and allows people to make extra money by selling excess produce from their community garden. Unfortunately the process for adding agriculture to cities is very difficult and takes a large amount of time and money to get approval. Hopefully the process will become more streamlined over time and cities all over the United States will have opportunities to bring agriculture to their backyard.