What does Urban Agriculture mean?

Emily Masek

What does Urban Agriculture Mean to You?

We are living in some pretty amazing times. Each day, technology rapidly changes how we meet our needs and accomplish our daily routines; complex paper maps replaced by GPS and encyclopedias by pocket-sized computers. Now, as a consequence of rapid urbanization, we are seeking to transform the way that we grow our food, replacing traditional rural agriculture with a new practice called urban agriculture. But what is urban agriculture, and how is it different from agriculture as we know it?

It turns out that urban agriculture doesn’t have its own Merriam-Webster definition. If we decide to mush together the words urban (pertaining to a city or town) and agriculture (growing crops and raising animals for food and products), urban agriculture is then simply the growing and harvesting of food within the city. If we further break it down based on our current definition of agriculture (growing, harvesting, and distributing food), then urban agriculture becomes much more than just your basic home gardening. 

Now we have a pretty nice technical definition for urban agriculture. Is it enough?

I think we are still missing a key ingredient that defines this industry. When I think about urban agriculture, I don’t just consider the awesome tech and methods behind it – although those are pretty cool on their own, too. I also remember that behind this science and tech exist some amazing human beings. In our definition, we’re missing the humans that make it happen – the community that makes it happen and benefits from it. That’s right: urban agriculture means community.

Conventional agriculture generally happens on the outside, hundreds of miles away in places like rural Central Valley and the wheat fields of Argentina. It involves players (managers, farmers, middlemen) you may never meet in your lifetime. Even though it may have a small community of its own, rural agriculture for the most part does not concern itself with the communities we live in and care about. But urban agriculture happens here; it functions within our communities, and its players may be our neighbors, our friends, and our family. 

What kind of a community am I talking about? Think about your community for a second, and I’ll think about mine. I think about my hometown, the city of Las Vegas. This place has produced many of the key individuals behind Urban Seed and other urban agriculture movements. I also think about the neighborhood I grew up in, the heart of Downtown Las Vegas, and all the wonderful individuals and businesses within it. This is one of the hardest-working communities I have ever experienced, a community that changed its reputation from a roughed-up ghost of its 1960s glory to a cultural epicenter that is very much alive. In communities like this, with determined team players, urban agriculture is sure to be a transformational power. Same for the community you are picturing yourself.

But communities often face crises. For example, food deserts, neighborhoods with limited access to fresh foods and produce, exist in our very own cities. Unsettlingly, thousands of residents lack vehicles and disposable income to access grocers, and as a result they miss out on the wholesome taste and essential nutrients provided by plant foods. Urban farms and their function within our communities could forever change this situation, ensuring that everyone can munch on affordable and deliciously crisp apples and carrots grown just a few miles away. What community wouldn’t want that?

There’s one last word I’d like to attach to urban agriculture: sustainability. As a university student, I can’t speak for all university students with regards to individual values and goals, but I can speak as a member of an emerging generation that will be dependent on sustainable practices in all sectors of society. It becomes clearer and clearer each day that current farming practices will not be able to sustain themselves for long. We need a better alternative. By saving on water, energy, waste, and land space, urban farms become this better alternative. 

Urban agriculture means a lot of things; maybe it’ll land in Merriam-Webster one day. But to me, urban agriculture means community and sustainability. It means growing tasty food together for generations to come.

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