The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) defines urban agriculture as “the growing of plants and the raising of animals within and around cities” to provide fresh food, generate employment, recycle waste, and strengthen cities’ resilience to climate change.
As the rate of urbanization increases rapidly, urban poverty and urban food insecurity are increasing as well. The Resource Center on Urban Agriculture and Food Security (RUAF) Foundation expects that by 2020, 85 percent of the poor in Latin America, and about 40 to 45 percent of the poor in Africa and Asia will be concentrated in towns and cities. Urban agriculture reduces the poverty and food insecurity resulting from urbanization, while also improving the health of city residents and preserving the environment.
Colin McCrate, the founder of the Seattle Urban Farm Company, emphasized the importance of urban agriculture in a recent interview. “It is imperative that we begin to focus on sustainable farming practices,” he said. “The reality is that the industrial food system in its current incarnation is not designed to grow food for everyone on the planet, but instead to maximize profits for a few large corporations. I believe that urban food production can be a part of a better functioning food supply system…as a tool for expanding and informing dialogue about our food system.”
The international community is beginning to recognize the integral role of urban agriculture in improving the economy, environment, and health of cities. Food Tank has put together a list of 12 organizations that are propelling urban agriculture in cities around the world.
Camp Green (Kampala, Uganda): Harriet Nakabaale, one of the Uganda’s most successful urban farmers, runs Camp Green, a space where young people can learn the fundamentals of urban agriculture and how to develop their own urban farms with limited space. Since Camp Green started in 2012, they have reached over 10,000 city residents, teaching them how to compost waste, grow their own produce, raise their own chickens, and eat nutritiously. New Vision, Uganda’s government-owned daily newspaper, recognized Nakabaale as the woman achiever of the year in 2012, citing her outstanding dedication to ensuring food security in the community.
Ciades Sem Fome (São Paulo, Brazil): Established in 2004 by social entrepreneur Hans Dieter Temp, Ciades Sem Fome (Cities Without Hunger) transforms São Paulo’s unused land into community gardens, school gardens, and agricultural greenhouses to improve the diets and health of local communities. The NGO provides local community members with the tools and training to start cultivating produce on the organization’s land. In doing so, they provide quality produce and food security to São Paulo’s deprived favelas, while also addressing unemployment.
City Farm Project (Bangkok, Thailand): Nakorn Limpacuptathavon, known in Thailand as the Veggie Prince, founded the City Farm Project in 2014 as Thailand’s first NGO to promote and practice urban farming. The farm, which is about 650 square meters, produces pesticide-free produce for urban residents and provides workshops to people interested in urban farming. The workshops cover the principles of urban farming and organic food and provide experiential training on composting and recycling. Limpacuptathavon and the City Farm Project’s supporters also advocate for changes to local agriculture policy.
Economics and Sustainability (ESTA) (Milan, Italy): In October 2015, Milan’s Mayor, Giuliano Pisapia, and mayors from over 100 cities across the world signed the Milan Urban Food Policy Pact (MUFPP). The Pact is the first international protocol whose aim is to develop sustainable food systems. ESTA is advancing that mission in Milan by developing sustainable urban agriculture and consumption initiatives throughout Milan, like the Sustainable Milan Project.
Gaza Urban and Peri-Urban Agriculture Project (Gaza): Oxfam Italy and the RUAF Foundation have implemented this project to help small-scale urban producers in Gaza. The four-year project’s main goals are to provide producers in urban settings with an improved agriculture processing sector, train these producers, and advocate for public policy that supports urban agriculture initiatives in the city.
Green in the City (Tel Aviv, Israel): Located in the center of Tel Aviv, Green in the City is a partnership between LivinGreen, a hydroponics and aquaponics company, and the Dizengoff Center, the first shopping mall built in Israel. The collaboration provides urban farmers with space on the top of the Dizengoff Center to grow vegetables in floating beds of water without pesticides. Green in the City also provides urban farming workshops and trainings in individual hydroponic-growing home systems.
Grund Garden (Budapest, Hungary): Grund Garden is the first urban farm in Budapest’s 8th district. The community space provides city residents with plots of land to grow crops of their choosing with an emphasis on rare seed varieties, which are provided by a Hungarian seed bank. Their mission is to utilize abandoned land in the district, while also providing city residents with the opportunity to learn about urban agriculture, grow their own food, and engage with the community.
Mazingira Institute (Nairobi, Kenya): In 2000, the Mazingira Institute initiated its Urban Food and Nutrition Security and Urban Agriculture Project to provide training courses in urban agriculture, food security, nutrition, and food systems. Once illegal, urban agriculture has gradually gained acceptance in Nairobi, due in large part to the efforts of the Mazingira Institute. They have trained over 3,000 urban farmers of all ages and have established a farmer-to-farmer education network to continue spreading knowledge.
The Michigan Urban Farming Initiative (MUFI) (Detroit, Michigan, United States): This 100 percent volunteer-run nonprofit is located in the heart of Detroit’s North End neighborhood. They seek to engage city residents in sustainable agriculture to overcome the problems of vacant land, poor diet, nutritional illiteracy, and food insecurity. Using education, sustainability, and community as the foundation for their actions, the organization ultimately hopes to serve as a model for positive urban development and as an epicenter for urban farming.
Sustainable Actions for Edible (SAFE) Gardens (Arusha, Tanzania): SAFE Gardens is a multifunctional garden in the heart of Arusha, Tanzania, which provides women with a participative urban agriculture experience. The project aims to promote urban agriculture practices that can reduce malnutrition and food insecurity in the community. The garden, managed by a women’s cooperative, has five edible gardens, an educational area, a small restaurant, a weekly market of horticultural products, and a tree nursery. They have also established 200 domestic edible gardens in urban and peri-urban areas of Arusha.
Urban Harvest (St. Louis, Missouri, United States): Urban Harvest’s mission is to grow organic, healthy food for St. Louis residents and to provide a platform for community engagement. The all-volunteer organization produces 2,000 pounds of produce each year for members of the community and for the St. Patrick’s Center’s culinary training program for the homeless. They also offer educational programs that focus on the basics of urban farming, sustainable growing, nutrition, and environmental preservation.
Whitelock Community Farm (Baltimore, Maryland, United States): Located in Baltimore’s Reservoir Hill neighborhood, Whitelock Community Farm provides affordable and sustainable fresh food to members of the community, supports neighborhood job creation, and helps promote gardening, composting, and positive community activity. In support of their mission, they also host farm-based learning programs such as gardening and cooking classes for children and adults. Whitelock Community Farm is a member of Baltimore City’s Farm Alliance, which is a network of producers working to increase the viability of urban farming and improve access to urban-grown foods.