Show Me Your Starts at Hayes Valley Farm, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from edibleoffice’s photostream

Urban farming is exactly what it sounds like: growing, processing and distributing food locally within cities and other nonrural areas. Why is there a push to help facilitate this movement? First, you need to know that 50% of the world’s population live in cities. Imagine the effort and cost and energy it takes to import all the food needed to feed a city of people. Now take in the fact that urban dwellers with the lowest income spend 40% to 60% of that income on food each year. And, what food is available for their purchase? Unfortunately, the poorer the neighborhood, the more likely it is to be a “food desert” — a place where it’s nearly impossible to find fresh produce.

This is where urban farming comes in. The benefits are enormous. First, it’s a sustainable practice because energy is not being expended on bringing food from the farm to the city (which also makes it cheaper to purchase). It not only increases the overall amount of food available locally to city dwellers, more importantly, it increases the availability of fresh, healthy, nutritional food. And, the benefits don’t stop there. Urban farming can provide a source of income, it can bring about community involvement, and it can replace urban blight with bountiful harvests. Moreover, most urban farming enterprises are less likely to use pesticides on produce or to utilize “factory farm” practices which have led to food recalls.

There are groups in Pittsburgh right now helping to promote responsible urban farming. These include: Engage Pittsburgh, Grow Pittsburgh, BurghBees and PittsburghPoultry (yes, it’s about more than just planting vegetables and fruit).

Pittsburgh City Council is currently considering a bill which would help to promote urban farming in the city of Pittsburgh. It’s needed because there are zoning issues when it comes to the agricultural use of land in our city. Here is a link to that legislation.

Finally, utilizing urban areas as opportunities for agriculture is happening throughout the world. In September, Councilman Bill Peduto was invited to participate in a small gathering of urban leaders in San Francisco which was hosted by CEOS for Cities. During the conference, representatives from Toronto gave a presentation on what they are doing to promote their city as a global leader in the locally produced food movement. You can view their PowerPoint presentation here.