Food systems: Urban ugriculture

Research tools

Learn how cities are addressing urban agriculture:

Urban agriculture policy

The growing, processing and distribution of food crops and animal products — by and for the local community — within an urban environment.

Urban agriculture in the United States and Canada is usually defined as “the growing, processing and distribution of food crops and animals products within an urban environment.” Because its products are generally used locally, to feed local populations, often the community is seen as an important indicator and included in the definition. In other words, urban agriculture is “by and for the local community.”

Despite these broad definitions, urban agriculture remains specific to its locale and practices based in urban environments vary widely, for differing reasons, in nearly every area.

Examples of urban agriculture:

  • Backyard gardening or edible landscapes, which primarily provide food products for an individual household
  • Community gardening, which is done communally in a public space
  • Rooftop gardening
  • Beekeeping
  • Urban production of food crops sold in local markets

Reasons for urban agriculture:

  • Recreation
  • Enhance neighborhood attractiveness
  • Provide a significant food source for families or neighbors
  • Earn profits to supplement household income or make a living

Urban agriculture has become more popular in the past few years as concerns about the environment have combined with increased interest in health and community-building issues. Despite the health, environmental and economic benefits of growing food and raising animals in metropolitan areas, the availability and types of land that can be used for urban agriculture vary widely between municipalities, as does the type of agriculture appropriate to each area. Municipalities in the United States are increasingly recognizing the benefits of urban agriculture, especially its potential for revitalizing communities with a surplus of vacant land and for stimulating local economic activity.

Although support for urban agriculture is increasing, many challenges remain:

  • Access to water
  • Access to capital
  • Zoning ordinances that prohibit certain types of urban agricultural activity

Many cities are addressing these challenges in a variety of ways:

  • Reviews of ordinances
  • Development of zoning specific for urban agriculture
  • Community outreach and education
  • Inclusion of urban agriculture in city plans

This website provides examples of city ordinances, community outreach, and research and resources on urban agriculture, and will be updated frequently to keep you abreast of changes. Also provided are the results of a survey of the Urban Sustainability Directors Network on what is happening with urban agriculture in cities across the U.S. and Canada.

This Web page developed with support of the Urban Sustainability Directors Network, on behalf of the cities of Columbia, Kansas City and St. Louis.