Urban community farms a growing trend

MICHIGAN STATE (US) — Transforming vacant urban lots into farms and community gardens could provide city residents with a majority of their fruits and vegetables.

A new study indicates that a combination of urban farms, community gardens, storage facilities, and hoop houses—greenhouses used to extend the growing season—could supply residents in Detroit, Michigan, with more than 75 percent of their vegetables and more than 40 percent of their fruits.

The study, which appears in the current issue of The Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development, evaluates several aspects of the production potential of the city’s vacant properties, including identifying available parcels of land and addressing residents’ attitudes toward blending agrarian traits with urban lifestyles.

“What’s clear from our production analysis is that even with a limited growing season, significant quantities of fresh fruits and vegetables eaten by Detroiters could be grown locally,” says graduate student Kathryn Colasanti, who led the study for the C.S. Mott Group for Sustainable Food Systems at Michigan State University.

“And investments in produce storage facilities and hoop houses would increase this capacity substantially.”

As part of the analysis, available land that had no existing structures was catalogued using aerial imagery and the city’s database of vacant property. Researchers identified 44,085 available vacant parcels, which span 4,848 acres.

“Our totals are conservative,” says Mike Hamm, professor of sustainable agriculture. “But it may be closer to representing the quantity of land more readily available for urban farms and gardens because these parcels are publicly owned and clear of any buildings.”

Different groups value urban farms for different reasons, the study finds. Some groups see farms and gardens as a means to provide for their families and to bring in some additional income.

People connected with urban agriculture organizations emphasized how such efforts strengthen neighborhood bonds. Some senior citizens and youth embraced the concept as a way to access higher-quality foods.

These attitudes could be tempered by a variety of factors related to implementing urban farms and gardens, such as increased activity and noise, perimeter fencing, free gardens used to draw neighborhoods together versus those that sell their products profit, altering the urban landscape with a semi-rural feel and more.

“These different opinions can co-exist,” Hamm says. “But because they could also come into conflict, there is a need to engage in diverse communities to create a vision for the form and scale of urban agriculture in Detroit.”

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