Resource: Urban Farming: Examples; Policy; Technical Guides
NextStep website and MnSCN are winding down
The NextStep website and the Minnesota Sustainable Communities Network (MnSCN) are winding down and will no longer function after June 30, 2015. Until then, the website will be accessible, but existing web site content will not be updated nor will new resources or other new content be added to the site. Learn more.

Title: Urban Farming: Examples; Policy; Technical Guides
Resource type: Article
Topics: Agriculture, Communities, Individual Choices, Land Use
Keywords: community food, food production, urban food, urban farm
Audience: All
Region: Minnesota Statewide, Outside Minnesota
Summary: Urban farming has many advantages and can be a significant contributor to community food supplies.
Content: Once very common in the U.S., significant urban gardening on an individual and community basis has decreased over the decades. But a host of issues are making urban agriculture more attractive:

- Rising oil prices and increasing transportation and food costs.

- Increased interest in and sales of local, fresh and organic food.

- Food safety concerns related to industrial agriculture, and to storage/shipping of distant food.

- Self-reliance and food security.

- Job creation and keeping jobs and money local.

- Community-building, pride in and enjoyment of horticulture and local production, and educational opportunities inherent in growing food.

Historically in the western hemisphere, events where oil has been rationed have spurred astonishing responses by the public. During both World Wars, Americans planted Victory Gardens in urban and rural areas. At the height of WW II, 20 million Victory Gardens were producing roughly 40% of America's vegetables. More recently in the early 1990s, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, Cuba lost its source of cheap oil. Its industrialized agricultural system immediately faltered for lack of oil, but the solution has been growth of urban gardens (including rooftop gardens), which today produce 50 - 80% of the vegetables consumed in Cuban cities.

In Minnesota there are a number of urban agriculture examples: see, for example, the Duluth Community Garden Program at which presents "Garden Hop: An Urban Food Production Tour" to introduce people to residential sites where homeowners are producing large quantities of a wide variety of food in relatively small spaces. Crops include fruits, vegetables, chickens, flowers, and herbs. Duluth also has small-scale "farming" in the city: the raising of chickens (see

See also -- web site for the network of permaculturalists in Minnesota, the Permaculture Research Institute for Cold Climate, which formed in 2003.

And for a look at newer low-technology farming in Minnesota - greywater solar greenhouses and high tennels (hoop houses), see

In fall 2005, the St. Paul Environmental Roundtable began discussions on renewing and reviving the 1987 St. Paul Municipal Food Policy. This provides direction on assuring adequate food for all citizens, increasing the city's safe and local food supply, encouraging community gardens, supporting farmers' markets, reducing citizen exposure to hazardous substances in food, improving the nutritional value of food, and much more. The Roundtable was a collaboration of individuals from neighborhoods, organizations, city departments and businesses throughout the city, convened monthly by Eureka Recycling (see details and contacts at, which also includes the final report from the Roundable and a link to the section of the report on Final Recommendations for Healthy Local Food Systems.

For the greater Minneapolis-St. Paul urban area, see the web site of Gardening Matters at Gardening Matters works to promote and preserve community gardening across the Twin Cities. Their web site includes a map of community gardens in the Twin Cities at

In Wisconsin an impressive example is the organization Growing Power (, growing large quantities of food on its a two-acre plot of land in north Milwaukee. And in California, see to learn about an urban farm in Pasadena, CA.

The American Planning Association (APA) and the emerging sustainable urbanism rating system, LEED for Neighborhhood Development (LEED-ND), are recognizing this interest in food system issues and the benefits and need for urban agriculture. The APA offers a Policy Guide on Community and Regional Food Planning (2007) at which presents seven general policies, each divided into several specific policies. For each specific policy, a number of roles planners can play are suggested. The policies include:

- Support for a comprehensive food planning process at the community and regional levels.

- Promoting local and regional food systems.

- Support for food systems that are ecologically sustainable, equitable and just, and that preserve and sustain diverse traditional food cultures.

In the LEED-ND rating system, one credit is given for local food production and food access by means of neighborhood farms and gardens, greenhouses and orchards, or through farmers' markets and community supported agriculture. See for quantitative measures for how a city or developer can fulfill this credit.

The American Medical Association passed a resolution in 2009 supporting sustainable food systems, based upon on a report from its Council on Science and Public Health

A number of local, state and national organizations can help citizens, at no charge or for a fee, develop the skills of urban farming. One organization based in the U.S. and Canada - Small Plot INtensive (SPIN) Urban Farming ( - sells a "a non-technical, easy-to-learn and inexpensive-to-implement farming system." SPIN Farming has documented amazing gross revenues of over $50,000 from a half-acre plot, using organic-based techniques. It involves multiple crops each year, growing a wide variety of vegetables, and marketing through a number of channels. This approach does not require owning land (renting is an option), and can work in a city, town or rural area. It seeks to resolve barriers to entry to farming - land and capital - and also helps established farmers or part-time hobby farmers to diversify. See SPIN's web site to learn more.

Suggested by: Philipp Muessig
Added: 03/4/08
Updated: 08/30/12