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The Rise of Urban Farming in North America


A look at potential positive affects of North America’s transition from Rural to Urban farming.

By: Spencer Emmerson, Junior Staff Writer

Image courtesy of Kayla-Jane Barrie

Image courtesy of Kayla-Jane Barrie

As I drive myself from point A to B, a significant question has grown where endless fields once resided: are we seeing the end of rural farming culture?

I fondly remember waking up early on weekend mornings in order to beat the traffic out of the city, our final destination a chalet or cottage way out in the country. Between point A and B resided many a small town, populated with what seemed like farm after farm and field upon endless field. I remember staring at the giant tractors taking up our driving lane and my Dad impatiently trying to pass them.

However, as I grew older and each trip came and went, significant changes appeared before my eyes. Those once never-ending fields seemed to in fact end. The giant tractors didn’t look so immense as they sat on the front lawn of each and every farm: FOR SALE – see owner for details.

Just as skyscrapers are testing the limits of how high our cities can grow, our urban environments are expanding outwards, resulting in the manipulation of rural areas.

Elizabeth Mylott, author of an essay concerning urban-rural connections, says, “Expansion of urban areas and large-lot development (greater than one acre) in rural areas are reshaping urban and rural areas.”

To travel down a stretch of highway from Toronto to Guelph – roughly 100 km of highway – an onlooker can see the urban and large-lot developments that Mylott is referring to. The distinction between smaller farming communities and urban areas is becoming more difficult to see because these areas – like Guelph and Milton – are becoming more city-like by the year.

Think of it as a fill-in-the-blank problem in which all of the blanks are subsequently filled by the term ‘urban development.’  This kind of development has the potential to threaten agriculture, an idea that concerns Mylott.

The connection between urban development and agriculture

“The growth of urban areas threatens agricultural production,” she says. “As development spreads, it competes with agriculture for land.”

Stats Canada supports this trend of urban development competing with agricultural communities, as there was a 6% decrease in farming communities’ population in Canada over a five year period from 2001 to 2006. These stats could suggest that farmers are beginning to move away from their past lifestyles as farmers to find new ways of making a living within the ever-expanding urban environment.

[pullquote]A project such as this community farm will give the youth of this community as sense of ownership that could potential inspire them to dream big and understand what can come from hard work.[/pullquote]

As fewer people make their living through agriculture the current discourse has turned towards the future of farming. Unfortunately this current discourse places rural and urban environments on opposites sides of the spectrum, with rural areas being the sole place for farming and urban being incapable of sustaining agriculture. This is simply not the case, and currently there are several projects underway in several Canadian and American urban environments that demonstrate farming is far from extinct.

In Brooklyn, NY, a recently hurricane-ravaged suburb is looking to use a 1-acre farm to create a sense of community and responsibility within their youth population. This particular section of Brooklyn is known as the Red Hook Houses, and represents the second-largest public housing community in the city.

The farm will offer jobs to 34 teens in the area with the goal of getting “kids off the streets and into the fields, with the added benefit of eating better at home,” says Crain’s New York.

Kristin Morse, from the Center for Economic Opportunity, explains: “The program tackles two of the Bloomberg administration’s main initiatives – one is food anti-obesity issues and the other is anti-poverty.

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