Urban Farming: Can Cities Feed Themselves?

urban farm in Cleveland

LONDON, Ohio — As more farms dot the urban landscape, interest is growing in just how much food can be produced in American cities.

Currently, estimates are that 15 percent of all food in the United States is produced in a metropolitan area, said Mike Hogan, educator with Ohio State University Extension in Franklin County. That includes food grown in home and community gardens, urban farms, and even urban aquaculture facilities, he said.

Hogan will discuss “Can American Cities Feed Themselves?” at the annual Farm Science Review in London, Ohio. The College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences at The Ohio State University is the Review’s sponsor. OSU Extension is the college’s outreach arm.

The presentations will be on Sept. 23 at 11:40 a.m. during a 20-minute “Question the Authorities” segment, and again on Sept. 24 during an hourlong presentation at 10:30 a.m. at the Review’s Small Farm Center Building.

Hogan’s talks are just two of many during the Review’s run from Sept. 22-24. The Review takes place at the college’s 2,100-acre Molly Caren Agricultural Center. Find a complete list of presentations at go.osu.edu/FSR2015sched.

Franklin County, the home of Columbus and its suburbs, currently has about 15 urban farms, Hogan said.

“They’re all different sizes. Some are owned by individuals, others are run by nonprofits. The number has really grown, but cities like Cleveland and Detroit have dozens and dozens of urban farms.”

Still, interest is strong in the area, he said. In fact, he is preparing to begin his third 10-week Ohio Master Urban Farmer course this month, a course that has “a perpetual waiting list,” he said. The series covers everything from site selection to insects and diseases to food safety and marketing.

Urban farms often have different issues to face than traditional farms in rural areas, Hogan said. They include zoning regulations and challenges with sites that were previously residential or, sometimes, industrial.

“One of the largest issues to look at is what the land was used for previously, and if there’s a potential for residual contamination from that previous use,” Hogan said.

But the benefits of urban farms can be substantial, he said.

“People have caught onto the fact that urban ag has a whole lot of community development benefits — economic, cultural, social, health — which is why interest continues to grow,” he said.

In 2011, a study conducted by the college’s research arm, the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center, concluded that by using just 80 percent of the vacant land in Cleveland, producers could grow 50 percent of the fruits and vegetables, 25 percent of the poultry and eggs, and 100 percent of the honey that the city consumes, Hogan said, indicating the potential for cities to grow even more food than they do currently.

Details about the Review overall, including activities, ticket prices and hours, are at fsr.osu.edu. Some 130,000 people are expected to attend the event.



CFAES News Team
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Mike Hogan