People have been growing food and raising livestock across the United States for centuries—even in cities. But it wasn’t until around the 1970s that backyard produce started showing up on sidewalks as well as in city parks and empty lots. Expanding awareness about climate change and industrial agriculture catalyzed the local food movement we know today, and the recession keeps shoring up more vacant spaces to plant. Cities like Portland and Seattle have boasted an urban farming scene for decades while Los Angeles—where there are at least 8,600 eligible parcels—is finally coming around. While zoning laws continue to loosen and tax breaks are brought to the table, here are the 10 best American cities for urban farming this summer.
1. Austin, Texas
With a YWCA community garden dating back to 1975 and a Sustainable Food Center in place since 1993, Austin has long been a southern champion for sustainable thinking and planning. Today, community gardens produce at least 100,000 pounds of fresh food every year, and the city has one of the most forward-thinking programs for producing food from livestock—residents can slaughter and sell chickens right in the city center as long as no one sees the bloodshed.
2. Boston, Massachusetts
America’s revolutionary city is now home to at least 200 community gardens with another 100 or so in local schools. Two of the most well-known are the Fenway Victory Gardens, the oldest continuously operating WWII “Victory Gardens” in the country, and the Boston Food Forest Coalition, which is pioneering biodiverse food ecosystems to help bring healthy produce to underserved neighborhoods. In 2013, Article 89 was adopted, permitting ground and rooftop farming, beekeeping, chicken raising, aquaponics, and hydroponics as well as farm stands and farmer’s markets—of which there are currently about 30. The city also released a farmer-friendly guidebook to help people get out of the weeds when it comes to Article 89.
3. Chicago, Illinois
Apiaries, community gardens, farmers markets, and urban farms (from empty lots to restaurant rooftops) are all thriving in Chicago, making the Windy City a safer and healthier place to live. As the only major metropolis that never outlawed animal rearing, Chicago still has a crop of chicken and goat keepers that could probably be traced back to the city’s roots as a trading post. More recently, city policymakers have set their eyes on the South Side, in which the Green Healthy Neighborhoods Plan aims to transform the districts of Englewood, Washington Park, and Woodlawn into a hub for community agriculture and sustainable business, all centered around a new pedestrian and bike path.
4. Cleveland, Ohio
Like its Great Lakes neighbor Detroit, Cleveland was hit hard by the Great Recession and US housing crisis, which left hundreds of vacant buildings and lots up for grabs for outdoor farms and greenhouse gardens. But community garden and farmers market policies actually stretch back to 2007, which helps explain the healthy market, CSA, community garden, and green space culture Clevelanders enjoy today.
5. Detroit, Michigan
In the span of 60 years, Detroit went from being the wealthiest city in the country to a badland of bankruptcy and vacancy following the decline of its manufacturing industry and exodus of more than half its population. Some 200,000 parcels, or roughly a quarter of the city’s area, were empty by 2012. In 2013, the city implemented a new urban agriculture ordinance that aimed to fill abandoned lots with local food. The measure worked. Today, more than 1,350 community gardens have sprouted across the Motor City, and the company Hantz Woodland has plans to build a giant urban farm on the 1,500 parcels it snapped up in late 2013.
6. Minneapolis, Minnesota
Over the past five years, Minneapolis, Minnesota, has made leaps and bounds in its municipal greening and gardening. The city council first proposed an urban agriculture plan in 2011, and 250 community gardens and 32 farmers markets have already swept the city. Another 29 lots that weathered tornado damage in North Minneapolis are currently up for grabs, according to the city website, and a pilot composting program will help fill the beds.
7. New York City, New York
New Yorkers don’t let harsh winters or high rises get in the way of their green dreams. The city that invented the High Line and popularized the private and hotel rooftop garden lays claim to some of the most active urban farms in the nation—from the massive Brooklyn Grange rooftop farm to the hydroponic wonder, Gotham Greens. Not a city to rest on its laurels, New York has continued to innovate when it comes to generating data on urban farming for growers and policymakers and educating youth through paid positions in urban farming.
8. Portland, Oregon
It’s no surprise that Portland, the U.S. capital of makers and homesteaders, is farm-friendly, too. Community gardens date back to the 1970s and zoning initiatives that began in the ’80s were recently updated into the Urban Food Zoning Code in 2012, which lays out laws for community gardens, CSAs, and farmers markets. Most of the farms are located outside the city center, but backyard gardening is as popular a pursuit as urban bee-keeping, home brewing, and pickling.
9. San Francisco, California
Always a trendsetter when it comes to progressive politics and sustainability, San Francisco has been a leader in residential composting and a hotbed for small nonprofit farms, such as Little City Gardens and Hayes Valley Farm, for nearly a decade. At the start of 2014, a new measure offering tax breaksfor properties that engage in urban farming catapulted the city’s local food efforts, and now dozens of organizations from the Backyard Harvest Project to the Good Eggs food delivery service to Urban Sprouts, which establishes edible gardens in low-income schools, are helping the city reach the forefront once again.
10. Seattle, Washington
Seattle’s P-Patch community garden program began in 1973, and today, 31 acres of city land are inhabited by 85 community gardens. Seattle is also livestock-friendly, allowing residents to keep goats, sheep, cows, horses, and pretty much anything except swine for pork. More recently, the Urban Garden Share program began matching gardeners that live in condos and apartments with home owners that have land to lend. There’s just one caveat: make sure the odors from your urban farm don’t exceed “what a reasonable person could tolerate.”
This feature originally appeared in Inhabitat.
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