The current state of urban agriculture and extension and research needs in the Northeast U.S
Monday, August 2, 2021
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Megan J. Thompson, Andrew D. Carson, Mamatha Hanumappa and Matthew L. Richardson, University of the District of Columbia, Neith G. Little, University of Maryland, John R. Taylor, Plant Sciences and Entomology, University of Rhode Island, Kingston, RI, Anu Rangarajan, Cornell University, Richard W. VanVranken, Rutgers University
Megan J. Thompson
University of the District of Columbia
Background/Question/Methods Urban agriculture continues to expand and can promote healthier ecosystems and human communities in urban areas. Despite the growth of urban agriculture, little is known about the profile of urban growers and their organizations. Therefore, we assessed urban growers, primarily in the Northeast Region of the United States to determine 1) the profile of growers and their organizations, 2) the current state of urban agriculture, and 3) how cooperative extension and research could help meet their needs. From this effort we also hoped to identify indicators that would allow us to forecast the direction of this burgeoning field. Our online survey collected information in the following broad categories: characteristics of individuals, which included items such as demographics, organizational role, area of study in college, and work experience; and characteristics of organizations, which included items such as size, number of sites, profit status, number of employees, income, expenses, organizational goals, barriers, property access and security, products, production systems, stakeholders, operational plans, use of natural resources, and current certifications. We also collected information about topic areas for desired trainings, and ways further research and outreach efforts could provide needed support for urban agriculture. Results/Conclusions The 468 urban growers who responded to our survey represented a range of urban farms, home gardens, community gardens, and other types of organizations. Nearly two-thirds of organizations were non-profits or had a hybrid for-profit/non-profit business structure. Increasing food access and contributing to environmental sustainability were goals most frequently reported by community gardens and urban farms, whereas self-provisioning and environmental sustainability were goals of home gardeners. While most production sites were small, urban farms often had multiple sites totaling one or more acres in size. Approximately half the urban farms had negative or relatively small net income, but nearly 10% reported net income exceeding $100,000/year. Balancing a living wage for farmers with selling affordable food was a top three challenge/barrier for urban farms. Most urban farms and community gardens grew vegetables, but also produced one or more other services, including educational programs, agritourism, landscaping, or catering services. Respondents identified topics on which extension and research, through new programming or better connections to urban growers, could support urban agriculture; the most frequently mentioned areas were production of specialty crops, management of urban soil, and composting. Our work is the most detailed attempt to date to understand and support urban agriculture.