Expand urban farming practices worldwide to rekindle our relationship with fresh, diverse, nutritious, and just food.
Urban farming offers the world’s 4.2 billion city residents opportunities to eat their food where it is produced, fundamentally changing their relationship with the food system. Urban agriculture could produce up to 10 percent of the global output of legumes, tubers, and vegetables. Expanding urban farming can improve resiliency in the food supply, reduce urban heat-island effect, expand pollinator habitats, and provide access to nutritious produce, especially in low-income communities. Urban farms give people an alternative to ultra-processed foods, reawakening their understanding of food and its impact on human health, happiness, and well-being. Demand will stimulate localization of small farms near cities, spurring change in the larger food system.
Learn about the diverse forms of urban farming. Urban farming is any type of agriculture in a city that grows food and distributes it locally. It can include bees, native plants, and livestock, such as chickens. Traditionally, it can happen anywhere there is sunlight and soil, including homes, communities, schools, rooftops, and market gardens, as well as balconies, tiny greenhouses, and pots. In recent years, urban farming has expanded to vacant lots, greenbelts, warehouses, landfills, and parks. Soil is not necessarily required. Hydroponic, aquaponic, and container systems can all produce food year-round and can be stacked vertically. Technological innovations have enabled urban farmers to move beyond traditional urban methods and expand their operations and growing seasons.
Learn why urban farming is important to communities and the planet. Urban farming tends to be small scale, decentralized, community focused, highly efficient, and adaptable. Benefits of urban farming include:
- It uses fewer resources, less water, and needs less transportation, and generates much fewer greenhouse gas emissions than traditional farms.
- It can produce similar amounts of food as small-scale farming.
- It helps reduce runoff associated with heavy rainfall and can lead to better air quality.
- Supporting local food producers contributes to regional economic development by keeping capital within the local economy.
- Collateral benefits include the recycling of organic matter into compost, shorter transport distances resulting in reduced greenhouse gas emissions, and increased resiliency to interruptions in food procurement and storage.
Grow your own food. Before starting, get a sense of options in your city—who is doing urban farming, what they are growing, and what might work best for you.
- Gardening organizations publish guides on how to find specialized classes on food gardening for beginners, vegetable cultivation, herb gardens, and garden innovations for small spaces.
- Research ways to incorporate diverse foods and heirloom seeds into your garden. Food diversity in urban farming ensures a wide variety of nutrients in city residents’ diets and plays an important role in ensuring the well-being of Indigenous peoples and smallholder farms. See the Eating Plants Nexus for more information.
- If you have the outdoor space to plant a garden, here are resources for beginners on how to grow specific crops, start a vegetable plot, and maintain a healthy garden. You can also check out more in-depth reading recommendations here.
- If you don’t have access to a patio, you can still plant herbs, tomatoes, or peppers—which don’t require intensive care or large pots—on balconies and windowsills or in hanging baskets.
- Hydroponic and aeroponic systems—which use little to no soil and use far less water than traditional growing methods—allow for indoor gardening. Here are resources with more information and tips on finding small aeroponic farms, seed starters, and grow kits.
- Websites like Skillshare have thousands of courses on topics ranging from houseplant care to building your own garden containers.
Join a community garden. Becoming part of a wider food-growing community creates opportunities to connect with others, share resources and best practices, and provide nutritious, locally grown produce to your community. Get started by searching for openings in volunteer databases, using community garden locators, or joining gardening meetups.
- Social Farms and Gardens works across the United Kingdom to provide workshops and training on the therapeutic use of farming practices in designing urban gardens for youth, elderly, and disabled residents.
- GreenThumb, the largest urban gardening program in the United States, connects volunteers with community gardens in New York City that require assistance with garden maintenance and services such as carpentry, grant writing, communications, and finance.
- The Chicago Community Gardens Association matches volunteers with community organizations that manage urban farms and gardens throughout the city and sponsors community involvement days.
- In Auckland, Kelmarna Gardens runs a four-month farmhands volunteer and training program for individuals interested in learning regenerative organic food-growing skills.
Buy produce grown by urban farms. Supporting urban farms—especially those owned by women and BIPOC, who are vastly historically excluded among farmers—boosts demand for localized food. Here are a few examples of how to support urban farms in your area:
- In the U.S., connect with urban farms by visiting your local farmers’ market or through urban farm location tools like the Chicago Urban Agriculture Mapping Project or the Dallas County Urban Garden Locator.
- Community-supported agriculture (CSAs) connects eaters directly with growers by buying a share of the farm up front in exchange for regular deliveries of fresh produce. In Hyderabad, Bangalore, and Surat, the mobile platform Farmizen delivers organic produce grown by women farmers on small plots rented to city residents aiming to reconnect with nature. In the U.S., you can search for CSAs near you through the Department of Agriculture’s CSA directory or connect through Harvie Farms, a subscription service that makes customizable deliveries from over 250 local farmers and producers throughout the country.
Advocate for urban farming in your community. Raise awareness and promote investments in urban agriculture infrastructure by writing letters to your local paper, attending community meetings, and joining online forums. Here are examples of op-eds written for newspapers and advocacy websites, vertical farming and gardening forums, and resources to find and prepare for town halls.
Commercial Urban Farms
Seek out training and educational resources. Many urban farms, such as the Urban Growers Collective and the Urban Farming Institute, offer hands-on training to beginner urban farmers. Many universities also offer their own certificates and training programs both online and in person.
- Here is an overview with links to toolkits to get started.
- An example of a city-specific step-by-step process.
- Here are resources on how to start your own hydroponic or rooftop farm.
Leverage government urban agriculture policies. Guidelines on starting a commercial farm are available on many national and city government websites. Here are examples from the U.S., Singapore, and Mexico City.
Consider collaborative farming approaches. Small farmers can benefit from the collaborative approaches employed by cooperative models where farms, customers, and owners combine resources and expertise, meet shared needs, and oversee operations. See Lufa Farms and Urban Growers Collective in the Key Players section for more information.
- Learn more about forming your own commercial CSA here.
- Here is a brief intro and a full guide to forming an agricultural cooperative.
Explore innovations in urban farming. Startups contribute to research and development that enables farms to scale up to feed a greater share of densely populated urban areas, decrease emissions, and minimize waste production and water use. Below is a small sample of farms pioneering emerging technologies (see Key Players section for more):
- Bowery Farms (New Jersey) is experimenting with the use of artificial intelligence, high-powered cameras, and robotic arms to identify and harvest fruits at peak ripeness, with a focus on fragile crops threatened by climate change.
- Ÿnsect (France) raises mealworms and other insects to be made into ingredients used to fertilize crops and feed pets, fish, and people.
- Upward Farms (Pennsylvania) integrates aquaponics with vertical vegetable farming and utilizes filtered fish waste to provide beneficial nutrients to the plants and minimize runoff waste.
Implement urban agriculture in your school’s curriculum. Becoming directly involved in growing food is a hands-on way to teach students about the impacts of their food choices and the benefits of environmental stewardship.
- Bites is a mobile app that connects teachers with affordable, interactive classroom lunches with chefs to increase food literacy in schools and establish school food gardens.
- In New York City, City Growers offers free and discounted urban agriculture–focused after-school programs, summer camps, and job training programs at their Brooklyn Grange Rooftop Farm.
- In South Florida, the Urban Farming Institute provides teachers with a certified Florida School Garden Curriculum containing master gardening techniques and maintenance instructions as well as monthly check-in visits to established gardens.
Urban Planners, Architects, and Developers
Retrofit existing buildings to accommodate urban farms. High land prices can make acquiring land for urban farming difficult, especially in densely populated cities. When structures like vacant lots, rooftops, and parking garages are converted into urban farms, it not only decreases the effects of urban heat-island effect but also creates community spaces.
- Rooftop Republic has partnered with businesses in Hong Kong to plant more than seven million square meters of rooftop gardens since 2015, with the aim of repairing the city’s relationship with food after decades of outsourcing to China, which currently produces 90 percent of Hong Kong’s food.
- In Melbourne, Australia, nature-protection group Odonata joined forces with urban food-system designer Biofilta to use a grant from the Melbourne city council’s Urban Forest Fund to create the Melbourne Skyfarm—an urban farm and orchard built on a converted parking garage rooftop.
Prioritize urban agriculture infrastructure. New buildings can be constructed with urban farms incorporated into the design from the start, integrating water, agricultural, and energy systems more effectively (see Nature of Cities Nexus).
- Thammasat University’s organic farm contains a built-in floodwater management system that slows rainwater runoff and prevents Bangkok’s sewage system from flooding.
- Nature Urbaine, the world’s largest organic farm, uses a closed circuit that recycles water, requires no soil, and minimizes electricity usage.
Reduce resource consumption in your day-to-day operations. By choosing energy-saving architectural designs, implementing systems that minimize water and food waste, powering crop growth through renewable energy, and abstaining from pesticide use, urban farms can minimize their carbon footprint (and often simultaneously reduce their operating costs in the long run).
- In Montreal, Lufa Farms runs the largest commercial rooftop greenhouse in the world and has committed to “responsible agriculture”—including recapturing and recirculating irrigation water and rainfall, installing energy-saving glass rooftop panels and insulation curtains, capturing residual heat, using predatory insects instead of synthetic pesticides, converting waste into compost, and expanding a fleet of electric delivery vehicles to meet the increasing demand for produce deliver.
- In Argentina, Rosario’s Urban Agriculture Program has reduced the city’s agriculture-related GHG emissions by 95 percent annually by localizing food production and establishing markets within walking distance of residents. The program has also secured over eight hundred acres of peri-urban land for permanent agricultural use, which lowers air temperatures, increases the absorbency of the soil, and ultimately helps prevent future landslides and floods.
Offer opportunities to community members to participate. Urban farms offer a unique space to increase people’s understanding of food and how it relates to human and planetary health. Here are a few farms that have made forging relationships with community residents an integral aspect of their mission:
- In Baltimore, Plantation Park Heights Urban Farm is building the city’s first “AgriHood”—a community-shared agriculture training and resource institute within the surrounding predominantly Black and Caribbean neighborhoods.
- Urban Growers Collective is a Black and women-led nonprofit urban farm based primarily on Chicago’s South Side that provides job training for young adults, beginner BIPOC farmers, and men at risk for gun violence.
- In Rio de Janeiro, Horta de Manguinhos, designates job opportunities for residents previously involved in the local drug and crime enterprises and supplies training, equipment, and enough food to feed their families weekly.
- In Mexico City, Huerta Tlatelolco, an edible forest and seed bank, teaches residents how to connect with food, care for the land, and build more green spaces throughout the city.
- In Jersey City, AeroFarms is partnering with the Jersey City Housing Authority to pilot Healthy Greens JC, which aims to address food insecurity by combining farming technology, nutrition education programs, and opportunities for members to participate in the growing process.
Build partnerships with local restaurants. Supplying produce to restaurants in your city inspires an interest in sourcing food locally, boosts freshness and quality, and cuts down on transportation emissions.
- In Singapore, Edible Garden City provides daily deliveries of fifty varieties of organic microgreens, edible flowers, and herbs to over two hundred dining establishments throughout the city.
Provide funding to community-based urban farms. Designating funding specifically for urban farms helps both ensure their longevity (i.e., by enabling them to prepare for the long-term impacts of climate change) and expand outreach to residents.
- Singapore has established a $63 million Agricultural Productivity Fund to help farmers access technology that protects crops from excess sun and high temperatures. They have already begun to unlock access to underutilized spaces like rooftops and vacant government buildings, while the Singapore Food Agency has also set a target of producing 30 percent of the city-state’s nutritional needs by 2030.
- In Cuba, the Urban Agriculture Department has provided funding and research support to the country’s organopónicos (organic urban farms that use crop substrates, animal manure, and household waste as fertilizer) by designating vacant land for agriculture free of charge, encouraging youth participation, and establishing guidelines to reduce energy usage and waste output.
- In the state of Bihar, the government is heavily subsidizing the cost of building urban rooftop farms and providing seeds, training, and infrastructure support to urban farmers in order to increase green cover, bolster residents’ income, and provide protection against heatwaves.
- In Dubai, UAE, the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change has allocated over 7,600 square meters of land to urban farming and has partnered with Shalimar Biotech Industries to develop country-specific vertical farming infrastructure, such as desalination plants and climate-controlled vertical farms.
- In Medellín, Colombia, the Municipal Administration’s Huertas con Vos (Gardens with Us) program provides guidance and technical assistance to home gardeners to learn how to grow their own food and increase food security in the community.
Assist urban farmers with long-term leases and land ownership. Assisting urban farms in acquiring long-term leases or land ownership allows urban farmers to maintain a long-term presence in the communities where they operate.
- In its first year alone, the Detroit Black Farmer Land Fund—a coalition formed by the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network, Keep Growing Detroit, and Oakland Avenue Urban Farm raised $55,000 to secure vacant lots for urban farmers in food-desert neighborhoods.
Ensure access to affordable housing near urban farms. Guaranteeing affordable housing in areas with urban farms preserves the relationships built between urban farms and residents and prevents the displacement of residents.
- In Santa Clara, California, a mixed-income housing project designed by Agrihood broke ground in September 2021. The project will consist of community garden plots for use by residents, apartments for low-income seniors and veterans, and an organic farm.
- In Chicago and Philadelphia, Vertical Harvest is partnering with local housing and development agencies to build hydroponic farms adjacent to affordable apartment complexes.
Join knowledge-sharing pacts. Pacts are key to increasing information flows between cities and farmers and ensuring that innovations in urban farming—especially those that increase resilience to the impacts of climate change—can be shared quickly. Here is a small sampling:
- Established in 2015, the Milan Urban Food Policy Pact is an international agreement joined by two hundred mayors from cities across the world who pledge as city leaders to develop inclusive and resilient sustainable food systems; integrate urban food policy considerations with social, economic, and environmental policies; engage actors at all levels of the food system in implementing food-related policies; and foster cooperation between cities.
- Black Urban Growers hosts a yearly national conference that convenes Black farmers, organizers, city leaders, and members of the Black community committed to food justice and sovereignty to share best practices and build networks of Black leadership.
BIGH Farms (Belgium)
Black Urban Growers (U.S.)
Bowery Farms (U.S.)
Denver Urban Gardens (U.S.)
Edible Garden City (Singapore)
Gotham Greens (U.S.)
Growing Greens (India)
GrowUp Farms (UK)
Horta de Manguinhos (Brazil)
Huerta Tlatelolco (Mexico)
Lufa Farms (Canada)
Mushana Agribusiness School (Uganda)
NXTLVL Farms (Philippines)
Planting Justice (U.S.)
Rooftop Republic (Hong Kong)
Spiral Gardens (U.S.)
Terra Farms (India)
Urban Bees (UK)
Urban Growers Collective (U.S.)
Gregory Bratton, South Side Chicago-based master gardener
Karen Washington, cofounder of La Familia Verde and Black Urban Growers
Kotchakorn Voraakhom, founder of Porous City Network
Malik Yakini, Detroit Black Community Food Security Network founder
Motown to Growtown: Detroit’s Urban Farming Revolution, Al Jazeera English
A Guerrilla Gardener in South LA, Ron Finley for TED
What Is Aquaculture?, National Ocean Service
Aquaculture and Aquaponics: An Overview for Urban Agriculture, Andrew Coursey
“Urban farms Won’t Feed Us, but They Might Just Teach Us,” Nathanael Johnson, Grist
“Urban farming’s International Past, Present, and Future,” Regina Cole, Forbes
“A Map of Where Your Food Originated May Surprise You,” Jeremy Cherfas, NPR
“Urban Cultivation and its Contributions to Sustainability: Nibbles of Food but Oodles of Social Capital,” George Martin, Roland Clift, and Ian Christie, Sustainability
“Urban Agriculture: A necessary pathway towards urban resilience and global sustainability?,” J. Langemeyer, et al., Landscape and Urban Planning
“The Means of Consumption with Malik Yakini,” America Dissected
“Talking Urban Agriculture & Food Policy,” Talk Policy to Me
“Mike Biltonen on Regenerative Orcharding with Climate Change,” The Urban Farm Podcast
“From ‘Milkshake’ to Veggies, Kelis and Ron Finley Share Their Farm Journeys,” All Things Considered, NPR)
“Urban Agriculture with Lori Hoagland,” Farming the Future
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