Urban agriculture can be defined as plant and animal food production, processing, distribution, retailing, consumption, and waste disposal. This includes urban farms and community and personal gardens that are located within, or close to, the metropolitan areas of Indianapolis and Northwestern Indiana that strive to produce food to be consumed in the same area. We recognize that urban agriculture, and therefore our related work, will develop from the physical, cultural, and entrepreneurial resources in a community and strive to increase quality of life for community members.

The practice of urban agriculture is gaining popularity as more people understand the valuable role it plays in a community. Urban agriculture, or “urban farm”, is a term that describes any food producing structure that is located in a city or heavily populated area. Urban farms come in many shapes and sizes and serve many different purposes. Below are a few of the different types of urban farms as well as some of the unique roles they might play:

  • Community gardens – A community garden is any plot of land that is farmed cooperatively by a group of people. Community gardens offer several benefits like neighborhood integration or fostering community relationships. Residential community gardens are hosted by neighborhood associations, and institutional community gardens belong to hospitals, rehabilitation centers, and other organizations. Beyond producing food, community gardens can be used as locations for educational demonstrations.
  • Church gardens – Church gardens, are tended by a group of people, but unlike community gardens, are owned by a church organization. The harvest items may be distributed among congregation members, sold as a fundraiser, donated to a food pantry, or cooked and served at outreach events.
  • Urban homesteaders – Urban homesteading is the practice of integrating elements of a traditional agriculture-based lifestyle into an urban setting. The goal of this type of lifestyle is self-sufficiency and sustainability, and may utilize intensive recycling, minimalist lifestyle practices and other methods, in addition to gardening for food production.
  • Educational plots – Cities are usually far from rural agricultural settings. Educational urban farms teach the urban community about farming processes. These farms may be built specifically for educational purposes and be associated with schools. Other organizations, like nature centers, often operate an educational farm as part of their outreach programs.
  • Growing for sales – Food grown in an urban farm can be sold just like any other type of produce. Whether distributed through local markets, restaurants, or farm stands, urban agriculture is a great way to provide fresh, local and seasonal product to the surrounding community. Some urban farms may be owned directly by a restaurant as part of a farm to table initiative.
  • Growing for food security – Instead of selling produce, donating produce is also common for urban farms. Many urban farming initiatives are started as a food security program. The produce itself can be given directly to families, or can be donated to local soup kitchens and food pantries for distribution. These farms can help improve access to fresh, healthy food where it might not otherwise be possible.

Regardless of the ownership or intended use of an urban farm, these city-based agricultural sites serve to bridge the gap between producing and eating farm fresh food.

Urban Farming and the Bigger Picture

In some cities, the role played by urban agriculture is large enough to sustain food production for a large population. In areas with a limited food supply, food from urban farms is extremely important, particularly when communities go through times of economic or political unrest. For example, Cuba fell into a severe depression at the turn of the century. In addition its economy was isolated by embargos and trade sanctions. The nation was unable to import a majority of the cereal grains that made up the Cuban diet, and a food crisis commenced. Citizens were forced to look for food sources in places they hadn’t previously. Urban farms then became an integral part of food production, especially because traditional agricultural tools like pesticides, fertilizer and fuel were increasingly unavailable. Industry underwent an enormous shift to prioritize edible crop production, and garden farming became the norm out of necessity. Between 1994 and 2006, urban output multiplied by a thousand, with annual growth rate for crop of 78 percent. Havana continues to be a leader in the sustainable agriculture movement and is prospering because of it. Cubans overcame economic and political deficiency through self-sufficiency in agriculture.

In Indiana and across the country, urban agriculture is flourishing. In Indianapolis alone, there are at least 134 urban and community gardens and more than 20 urban farms (City of Indianapolis, 2014; Toner, 2014). This source of food production in the urban setting is helping to meet the growing demand for local food. Communities of dense urban neighborhoods with food desserts are hungry for these improvements. In the 2015 community forums led by Purdue Extension, urban agriculture was identified as a strategic priority for future programs offered at county extension offices. Given its potential to meet a variety of community needs, urban farming is rapidly becoming an integral part of the solution to feeding cities.

Other Resources

  • If you are seeking language for policy-makers regarding land-use for urban agriculture, this Guidebook for Municipal Zoning for Local Foods from Iowa State will be very helpful.
  • If you are thinking about starting your own urban farming initiative, be sure to pay attention to some of these common obstacles, outlined on the Growing For Market The article discusses challenges like zoning regulations and access to water, which are important in any agriculture upstart. Similarly, Fantastic Farm Enterprises also offers some helpful tips for getting started.
  • The best way to learn more about urban farming is to personally visit one. Below are links to websites for some of Indianapolis’s most successful inner-city local food initiatives:
  • Indy Tilth also provides a number of permaculture resources, including links to farms, widely-utilized methodologies, and events.