November 18, 2014
I had the privilege of attending BioCycle recently and participated in a session on urban agriculture—the rising phenomenon of growing, processing, and distributing food and/or practicing animal husbandry in or around towns or cities. Urban agriculture contributes to supplemental food production and can support economic development and environmental enhancement. Popular in this country during war times (“victory gardens”) and during the Great Depression, urban agriculture can enhance food security and promote healthy eating. Urban agriculture—from community gardens to urban farms—can also play a pivotal role in promoting composting.
An environmentally beneficial role of both urban agriculture and community composting is the revitalization of urban soils and abandoned lots. Growing food in raised beds with uncontaminated soil and compost can provide healthy, edible food while also helping to decontaminate urban soils. Community gardens and urban farms help to educate the general public on the importance of returning organic matter to soils through composting.
What is needed to advance both urban agriculture and community composting is funding and training. Money is needed for soil testing, gardening/agriculture supplies, and to supplement the development and growth of urban farms. Training is required to ensure that gardeners/farmers know how to conduct soil tests and to build up raised bed soils to mitigate issues with lead and other contaminants that may be in urban soils.
Urban farmers need access to food production and processing opportunities to develop cottage business ventures. Agricultural support programs, including loan programs for start-up capital, credit, crop insurance, and market development similar to our current “rural-centered” conventional agricultural support system should be expanded to equally embrace urban agriculture programs.
Instruction on successful farming and composting is also necessary when community gardening is practiced by new enthusiasts to the urban agriculture experience. An educational infrastructure for urban agriculture and community composting can be developed through Agriculture Extension offices, parks and recreation gardening programs, community colleges, neighborhood organizations, and other venues.
Ohio has taken a proactive approach to both promote and regulate urban agriculture and community composting. The state’s Urban Agriculture, Composting and Zoning is a zoning code model for sustainable urban agriculture. According to the document, community gardens can:
- Provide increased access to fresher and healthier foods, thus improving food security, combating food deserts, and supporting healthy lifestyles.
- Promote a stronger sense of community.
- Put underused land lots into productive use.
- And, promote composting of organics, which helps to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, reduces the need for petroleum-based fertilizers, and produces a nutrient-rich soil amendment.
Ohio’s composting regulation makes it easier for households, community gardeners, and urban farmers to compost materials from a variety of sources. Under its regulatory exclusion, a community garden or any person that composts in an aggregate area no larger than 300 square feet, and only accepts yard wastes, animal wastes, food scraps, and, bulking agents and additives, will not need to register or obtain an operating permit. Additionally, organic materials may be accepted from any source and the compost produced can be used in any location.
Municipalities, urban agriculture enthusiasts, and community composters will benefit from zoning models such as Ohio’s. Such guidelines set acceptable operation parameters for urban farming and community composting, providing a regulatory environment in which to operate. Zoning allows for expansion of urban agriculture and community composting, while also ensuring nearby residents and businesses that these operations are being managed so as to not be a public nuisance.
By Athena Lee Bradley