What Is Urban Farming?

Have you been wondering what is urban farming, and if your city garden qualifies as an urban farm?

Maybe you are intrigued by the idea of a bucolic lifestyle in an urban environment, but you are not sure if urban farming is the same as the (rural) farming that you are already familiar with. When does a plot of land in a city make the transition from garden to urban farm?

Community Garden Herb Sign

Gardening for profit

I once read a snarky joke on a social media site that read something like “farming without profit is called gardening.” I have also encountered a few farmers  — the kind with acreage, livestock, machinery and barns — who roll their eyes at the term urban farmer. The phrase urban farming has become really popular and hip in the past few years. It has been used to sell everything from garden products, to websites, blogs and books. It seems like a lot of backyard vegetable gardeners and community gardens are now urban farmers and urban farms. So I think I agree with the farmers who believe that in order to be a farmer you have to be trying to make money from your “farm” to be considered a farmer.

community garden greenhouse

Is a large garden in a city a de facto urban farm?

If a big vegetable garden in a backyard or empty lot (that makes no money) doesn’t automatically qualify someone as an urban farmer, what does? Obviously not all “urban farms” are going to be able to use tractors and trailers and all the other machinery you would find on a rural farm. So what is the next characteristic we should look for in an urban farm?

Chicken on an Urban Farm

And on this urban farm he had some cows

Maybe we should look for the presence of livestock on an urban farm as the biggest qualifier to call yourself an urban farm. Granted not all urban farms are going to have room for livestock like cows and horses, but there are larger farms where you don’t find those animals either. But I have seen animals as small as donkeys, pigs and goats on both rural and urban farms. And of course there are chickens, which are becoming increasingly popular on urban farms. But I know some beekeepers who would make the case that honeybees are livestock. So let’s put down growing livestock you can eat, or that produces a sellable product, as a sign as an urban farmer.

Urban farms as social development

One trait that a lot of urban farms in my city seem to share is that they are playing vital roles in social and economic development. From beautifying abandoned properties to creating jobs and increasing access to sustainable foods, urban farms address many of the problems that inner cities are faced with. Urban farms can be aptly described as social movements.

Obviously, if you are wondering if you can describe what you do as urban farming, you should know that you can call it whatever you like. But if you are trying to define what is urban farming, there are some characteristics of rural farms that will help us identify urban farms.

  • Does the urban farm produce food to sustain the farmer, or can he sell it at market for profit?
  • Is animal husbandry part of the urban farm?
  • Is the farm part of social and economic development of an urban area?

If you can answer yes to all of these, I think it is safe to call it an urban farm. Everything else is just gardening, and that’s just fine.

You might also enjoy our beginner’s guide to chicken keeping.

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