Urban Farming, Not Your Backyard Garden

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The farming industry is growing – in the city. Beyond a backyard garden, a new generation of urban farmers is filling in empty lots with vegetation and greenhouses that offer health and economic benefits to the community. The next CMC forum on March 2, will discuss the topic of urban agriculture featuring speakers Michelle Mills, president and CEO, St. Stephens Community House and Casey Hoy, PhD., faculty director of the Initiative for Food and Agricultural Transformation and the Kellogg Endowed Chair in Agricultural Ecosystems Management at OSU. The discussion will be moderated by Elissa Schneider, major gift director for the Mid-Ohio Food Bank.
According to an OSU Farm Science Review article from September, 2015, 15% of all food in the US is produced in a metropolitan area, a small but growing segment of the overall market. Interest in learning how to farm on a scale larger than a small backyard plot but much less than the multi-acres of a rural large scale farm has increased. There has been great interest in the classes offered by OSU Extension to teach micro-agriculture in the central Ohio area since urban farming is not about rural farmers moving to the cities.
There are many benefits associated with urban agriculture including business growth, job creation, urban redevelopment and health. Forum speaker Michelle Mills’ organization, St. Stephens Community House, in the Linden area of Columbus, began an aquaponics project raising tilapia in addition to traditional vegetables. The project addressed several neighborhood challenges including systemic food insecurity and poor health. The project also offered education opportunities for the St. Stephens youth groups to learn about growing techniques followed by lessons in food preparation.
Dr. Casey Hoy, forum speaker from OSU, is one of the faculty leaders on the university’s Discovery Themes initiative in the area of food production and security. He has studied the impact of urban farming and explains his work in the following statement. “Agroecosystems include both people and the land. Our program seeks balance between prosperous farms, sustainable communities and healthy environments. I explore interactions between social networks, local economies and agricultural ecosystems from individual to community to landscape scales to build local and regional economies across the rural to urban continuum, starting with food systems.”
There are also challenges to the urban farmer such as zoning and environmental impact. Put up a tent-like or semi-permanent structure and local zoning law requires a permit. Researching what business enterprise used the land previously is essential to determine the health and safety of growing food in that soil.

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