Urban Farming And The Struggle To Maintain Control

Urban farming has long been identified as a practice that could address a range of problems, whether they be issues of food equality, sustainability, or psychological health associated with green space. Towards these ends, community farms and gardens have sprung up in urban environments over the last few decades. These community gardens often face pushback from the localities they’re situated in, with local governments wary of losing space for development to gardeners. Despite the setbacks faced, many of cities have seen an uptick in the vibrancy and number of community gardens.

For example, Chester, Pennsylvania has a thriving urban farm and local supermarket to sell its produce. Started over a decade ago by local college students, the garden was originally intended to provide educational services to the community. Much of the food was given to neighbors free of charge. Now, the community has reached a deal with the only supermarket in town to sell locally grown produce. This will support the urban farm while also providing the community access to affordable, healthy groceries. Access to healthy and affordable produce is crucial in locales like Chester, where over a third of the residents live below the poverty line and often have historically had to travel outside of the county to access a grocery store.

Detroit, Michigan, has also been home to a thriving urban farming environment. Now, the Michigan Urban Farming Initiative seeks to purchase urban land and use it to create community gardens in Detroit. The focus on this non-profit is to provide the skills and techniques for farming to local residents, which will afford them greater autonomy and access to healthy foods. The funding for this project has largely been crowd-sourced, with the organization hoping to grow further in the future.

Despite the many benefits of community gardening, however, there is a downside that many neighborhoods experience when a thriving urban farming industry is created. Often, these projects can lead to gentrification and displacement of the local residents for whom the projects were originally created. In Washington, D.C., residents face this problem as they seek to maintain control over the fruits of the labor. For now, the focus of many non-profits in these neighborhoods is to create a legal framework for community ownership that will grant some benefits to the residents threatened by gentrification and displacement. However, the problems are much more complicated than having a single fix. Further, these problems are intersectional in nature and will likely need to be addressed on many fronts before a valid solution is found.

If you live in an urban environment, connect with community organizations near you to become involved in a community garden or to start your own. Further, please fund organizations that are maintaining the existing community gardens and support organizations that are trying to retain the benefits of these urban farms for the current residents.