Urban Farming

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Initial version (January 25, 2013) by Rikki Watts, student at Truman State University

Context within NORA

Food is known as one of the most basic needs for human survival. This need is not being met by more than a billion people worldwide who suffer from hunger and poverty (Lee-Smith). Food production is not the main problem when dealing with global hunger, distribution is (Lee-Smith). The need for food goes hand in hand with the need for nutrition and income security (link to be inserted here once the page exists); when people are economically secure they are able to afford good food and when they are able to produce food, they will be able to also produce an income (Lee-Smith). During WWI, 40% of US food produced was grown in “liberty gardens”, showing the strength of urban agriculture (urbanfarming.org). This not only raised food production, but made better use of urban land (link to be inserted here once the page exists).

Many people in urban areas live in what are known as food deserts, or areas where fresh, nutritious foods are not available for miles (urbanfarming.org). Community gardens make food available in these areas for those who grow them and through the sale of extra produce from extra crops.

Activities with the purpose of producing food within a city environment can be considered urban farming and are seen as a major life improvement for many farmers because of the food and income produced (Mboganie-Mwangi and Foeken). Cases in South Africa and the United States offer examples of how urban farming may be used as a solution to problems of hunger and poverty.

Frances Moore Lappe: What is the role of urban and community supported agriculture?

Examples of Urban Farming

South Africa

South Africa has a history of apartheid and denial of opportunity. As apartheid ended, during 1991-2001, many poor blacks moved from the rural areas they had been restricted to towards cities in search of jobs and better lives (Averbeke). However, the cities did not offer this many new livelihoods (Averbeke). As a result, the poverty once found in rural communities moved into South African cities (Avebeke). This strain on cities led to high unemployment rates, 21.3 percent in some urban areas (Rogerson). Relocation and unemployment meant an increase in hunger and need for nutritious food.

The urban farms in South Africa have met another need: community support. Community gardens build relations and networks among those working in them. The South African people are also able to assist each other in learning the best methods of food production and sale. If a crop does not grow well or some members struggle with the garden, the community can offer comfort and support (Averbeke). The need for community in South Africa is particularly strong since so many have relocated from rural areas to the city and many struggle with the change of lifestyle (Rogerson). This community support is available to all those who participate in the program and can improve the quality of life of many living in the region.


Urban farming in Philippi, a township near Cape Town, has been funded by the City of Cape Town and Municipal Development Partnership for Eastern and Southern Africa to supply farmers with plots of land and provide the education needed to help gain an understanding of how to grow and sell the crops. With these plots, those living in the area are able to grow food for themselves and their families and sell the rest to bring in an extra income (Nieuwoudt). The farms use resources already in the area so that those who have moved from rural to urban areas are able to support themselves without having to rely entirely on the job market within the city.

The farms also provide needed nutrition. Regina Fhiceka is a women living in Philippi with her family who before the farms came to her township claimed to eat vegetables only once a week with the cheapest food available on the market. After the farms were developed, she says that her health improved, “before I became involved with the community garden, I did not eat well and I was always ill with colds. Now I seldom get sick” (Nieuwoudt). She is also able to sell the excess food on the market to bring home extra money to her family, meeting the need of nutritious food and an income.


Atteridgeville, a South African township near Pretoria, has seen the effects of poverty and food insecurity first hand. Nutrition deprivation is high, with a 17 percent stunting rate for children 12-14 months old due to a lack of iron and calcium in the children’s diets (Averbeke). It is clear that something must be done to meet the need for nutritious food in this community and others like it.

Despite their success, South African urban farms are not without their own problems. In the township, Atteridgeville, group gardens only produce seven percent of their potential and meet 28 percent of the vegetables needed for daily intake. There are several reasons for this shortfall of food. The plots of land, given to farmers by schools, clinics, and the municipal government, were often reclaimed by their owners, forcing farmers to abandon the project and move to a new plot. Insufficient irrigation systems and a lack of fertilizers also contribute to the limited success of community gardens in this area (Averbeke). Once these problems are addressed by the community and the municipal and central government, the farms will probably show greater yields and improve the lives of the community.

Video of Urban Farm in Cape Town Township

United States

Urban Farming.org

Urban Farming is an organization based in Southfield, Michigan working on a national level to encourage urban community farming in major cities throughout the United States. The gardens registered through Urban Farming are supported by non-profits, private and public entities, and government agencies. Urban Farming gardens have the mission of improving job creation, business growth, urban redevelopment, urban agriculture, health and wellness, and global investment. By working with communities and other institutions in the area, Urban Farming is able to improve the lives of those living in cities throughout the United States (urbanfarming.org).

Urban Farming is currently featuring a campaign called “Urban Farming 100 Million Families and Friends Global Campaign” with the goal of getting 100 million people to register gardens with the organization. This effort’s goal is to promote healthy foods for unemployed, underemployed, or those living in poverty. Information and tips on gardening can be found on the website and through community programs. When a garden is registered with the group, there is an option to declare the garden as a farm for family, friends, a corporation, or the community. As of 23 November 2012, there are 60,424 farms registered as residental, community, and partner gardens (urbanfarming.org) (60472 by January 25, 2013).

Through this organization, people can find means to interact and help each other through community forums. The organization’s website offers forums with information on job opportunities, especially promoting green jobs. The "Urban Farming Coexistence Model" has the goal of reaising awareness of six points:

  • Business Growth
  • Job Creation
  • Urban Redevelopment
  • Urban Agriculture
  • Health and Wellness
  • Global Investment

These goals are accomplished through workshops to educate the community on green job opportunities, how to grow and maintain gardens, and what it means to have a healthy diet and lifestyle. Builders are also educated on the benefits of constructing sustainable structures and already existing programs are funded by urbanfarming.org.

The Urban Farming Guys

The Urban Farming Guys is another group working as a non-profit public charity to improve quality of life through community farms. This organization works in Kansas City, Missouri, with the mission of creating jobs, building community, establishing alternative energy and water sources, and providing opportunity for youth with the hopes of reducing crime rates. The project now depends on donations, but hopes to soon be able to create enough jobs within the community to fund itself.

Currently, the group is beginning work on their first project in Lykins Neighborhood, Kansas City. So far, they have acquired vacant lots, installed water, and began planting gardens. They also are raising tilapia to fund the project. In the next phases of the project, the organization hopes to build sheds, incorporate livestock, and create spaces for community members to meet. With the establishment of this first project, the Urban Farming Guys hope that selling what is produced on the farm will provide an income for those working as well as continue to support the project.

Video on the Urban Farming Guys

See also: Introduction to the Urban Farming Guys

Related Links and Stories

More specific NORA content

Rooftop gardening

Hydroponics (page yet to be added)

Organizations Resource Centres on Urban Agriculture and Food Security (RUAF); as stated on the website, "The RUAF Foundation is an international network of seven regional resource centres and one global resource centre on Urban Agriculture and Food Security. RUAF is providing training, technical support and policy advice to local and national governments, producer organizations, NGO's and other local stakeholders."

Videos on Urban Farming in the United States

Novella Carpenter on Urban Farming

Mike Yohay on the Rationale for Urban Farming

Growing Cities

Services for Urban Farming in the United States

Urban Farming Entrepreneurship

Decentralized Urban Farming

Making it Legal in the United States

Legalizing Urban Farming


"urbanfarming.org." Urban Farming More than a Gardening Organization. Urban Farming, 2012. Web. 15 Sep 2012. http://www.urbanfarming.org/welcome.html

"theurbanfarmingguys.com." The Urban Farming Guys. N.p., 2012. Web. 15 Sep 2012. <http://theurbanfarmingguys.com/about>.

Averbeke, W Van. 2007. Urban farming in the informal settlements of Atteridgeville, Pretoria, South Africa. Water SA Manuscript (Report).

Lee-Smith, Diane. 2010. "Cities feeding people: an update on urban agriculture in equatorial Africa." Environment and Urbanization. Web. 17 Sep. 2012. <Environment and Urbanization>.

Mboganie-Mwangi, Alice, and Dick Foeken. 1996. "URBAN AGRICULTURE, FOOD SECURITY AND NUTRITION IN LOW INCOME AREAS OF AFRICA." African Urban Quarterly 11 (2-3): 170-179.

Nieuwoudt, Stephanie. 2009. "South Africa: Community Gardens Contribute to Food Security." Raj Patel, 02 2009.

Rogerson, C.M. "Urban Agriculture and Urban Poverty Alleviation: South African Debates." Agrekon. 37.2 (1998): 171-188.

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