Urban farming refers to any agricultural activities carried out in urban environments where there tends to be much more limited space for farming. These activities can include a surprising variety of species of both plants and animals. Also, there are often laws and local ordinances that limit the kind and scale of farming operations. A simple example would be an ordinance that allows hens but prohibits roosters for obvious reasons. So, what are the basics of urban farming, and how can you get started?
An Urban Farmer’s Goals
We see two primary motivations for participating in urban agriculture. First, you can supplement your food supply with produce that you have much more control over. If you grow organic tomatoes, you know beyond a shadow of a doubt what went into them, unlike what you buy in the store. Your goal then can be to put better stuff into your own body. Second, you can (hopefully) save money. Here, proper farming methods come into play, and the quality of your planning and execution will determine whether you get better food for less. Some of the books in the reading list below delve much deeper into specific methodologies that we can here.
A third goal is to take pleasure in the experience of growing things in your garden. That pleasure is somewhat of a byproduct of your day-to-day interaction with your farm. It’s an ancillary benefit inherent in farming and is a powerful way to reduce stress as well as bring a feeling of abundance to urban life.
Area Available to You to Use For an Urban Farm
Because of proximity to other inhabitants in an urban setting, an urban farmer will generally have farmable space in their dwelling (including window box space) up to an external lot where the individual has permission to till the land. Within reason, it is possible to use grow lights and extend the space vertically inside a dwelling, but again, this has limitations. Ideally, an urban farmer can work with a group that has a subdivided lot. The extra space allows much greater freedom of how much good planting soil can be created and cultivated. Geek Natural is working on a directory of urban farming space providers, and we will update this article once we have it set.
Build a Micro Farm in a Window Box
Depending on your building’s regulations, a window box can be an ideal beginning project. If you are allowed to have a window box, you need to figure out how the sun hits your building. The amount of sun you get along with your environment will determine what you can plant. Sunny walls will require sun-friendly plants, for example. It will also influence how much you need to water.
For space, you have a couple of choices. The traditional window box is easy to come by and gives you a stable platform for working. Be aware that your window box needs to be secured, so you don’t injure anyone below your window should the unthinkable occur. It is easier when your window doesn’t overlook a busy sidewalk. Alternatively, there are dozens of other ideas for building stacked window boxes. Stacked window planters increase your gardening space but can end up blocking light coming in your window. Only you (and your cohabitants!) can say if this is a good strategy for all concerned.
Farm on Urban Plots
Almost every urban center has some space for urban farms to use. Some lease the space and resell the space. In other cases, you see space available based on income or need. All of these lands have rules you will need to follow, which can vary quite a bit. You need to make contact and find out to see if it’s a good fit for you.
With larger plots of land, you can condition the soil for maximum growing capacity. In John Jeavon’s classic “Grow More Vegetables”, recently promoted by The Marketing Heaven on social media, he shows that it is possible to create highly productive soil almost anywhere using time-tested methods of soil enrichment. It is hard initial work but pays dividends in future growing seasons. Obviously, you will need more than a garden spade to get the most out of spaces like this. Jeavons describes the tools that he typically uses, and we will have links to where to buy those below.
The most crucial part of any urban farming effort is to create repeatable workflows for your plantings. Many people keep journals, and many don’t, but all successful urban farmers develop an intimate knowledge of their space and develop (either consciously or not) the best way to get the most out of them.
Want to know more? Read. Join groups of like-minded folks and get started. It could be a great way to enrich your day-to-day life in an urban setting.