Throughout most of history, agriculture was tightly linked to the city. The production and distribution of produce and livestock often drove urban design. After World War II, however, all that changed. With the rise of industrialization came, in many parts of the world, a distinct separation between cities and their food production.

Today, although more than half of the world’s people live in cities, most of their food is produced elsewhere, often through energy intensive, resource draining, and unsustainable industrial agriculture. Despite the high yields of “factory farms,” many cities now grapple with food security and hunger. With worldwide urbanization increasing, along with concerns in many cities about urban heat island effect, social justice, poor nutrition, declining natural resources, and struggling economies, one has to wonder: can urban agriculture reclaim its significance to life in the city? In many places, it already has.

The United Nations Development Programme estimated that 800 million people worldwide were engaged in urban agriculture and related enterprises in 1996, and that number has increased. In Africa, 40 percent of urban dwellers are said to be involved in some form of agriculture, and this figure rises to 50 percent in Latin America and the Caribbean. To quote the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, “Urban agriculture needs to be recognized as an important and increasingly central phenomenon of urbanization.”

Can urban agriculture restore the lost connection between cities and food? Can it build stronger, healthier, and more sustainable communities in the process? Join us as Leaf Litter explores the topic of urban agriculture.

We’ll begin by chatting with two people involved in urban agriculture at very different scales and from uniquely different perspectives. Novella Carpenter, the best-selling author of Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer, shares tales, insight, and some exciting ideas for urban agriculture. Dr. Mark Gorgolewski is an architect, professor, author, and key figure behind the Carrot City research initiative. He talks with us about how design at all scales can enable the production of food in the city.

For a real-life example of the integration of urban agriculture into a city’s vision, we take a look at the farms, gardens, vineyards, and orchards that are sprouting up in Cleveland, Ohio as part of the Re-Imagining Cleveland initiative.

We travel to the West Coast of the U.S. to explore the Beacon Food Forest, an edible woodland ecosystem in Seattle that is being heralded as the latest evolution in urban farming.

Reading about urban farms is one thing. Seeing them is where it really gets exciting. To help you do this, we offer a sneak peak at Growing Cities, the first feature-length documentary on urban farming in America. We also share glimpses into one city’s urban farm community, with a photo essay by landscape architect Jennifer Dowdell. Our list of resources can help you learn more about urban agriculture, and in Biohabitats Projects, Places and People, you’ll learn about the latest Biohappenings.

Find out more about what Leaf Litter has to say about urban agriculture, and be sure to tell us what you think by posting on our Rhizome blog or contacting Leaf Litter editor, Amy Nelson (anelson@biohabitats.com).

Further Reading

Pandemic Pause
E+D Podcast with Keith Bowers: The state of ecology and design in landscape architecture
Living Infrastructure: Green is great, but alive is even better
Water, Equity, and Ecology in Urban Planning
Composting Toilets: When Nature Calls

More From This Author

Thoughts on Ecological Restoration and Climate Change
Thoughts on Biocultural and Ecogastronomic Restoration
An Oasis in the Most Unlikely Place
Thoughts on Reintegrating Urban Ecology
A Beach with a View – Rebuilding New Jersey’s Coastal Dunes