Urban Farming

While farming is often perceived as something going on only outside the city, a study made by City Farmers in 2002 showed that 44% of households in the Vancouver area were involved in some kind of food growing on a balcony, in the window still or in an allotment garden. Urban public space show very little signs of this as urban planners and landscape architects tend to avoid fruit trees and edible plants and it is quite rare that land is set apart for food growing when cities are planned or developed.
In Sønderborg, Denmark the city gardener decided that one in six new trees would be fruit trees. We inquired if he had any problems he said the only complaint was from people who couldn't get to the trees because they were planted too far away from the street.

There seems to be an untapped potential for public involvement in city spaces, for building community and not least, for getting fresh vegetables and fruit to urban dwellers. Following are some examples by artists, NGO's and community gardening groups who show that farming in the city is indeed possible and a great way of making the city a more livable place.

Wheatfield: A Confrontation, by artist Agnes Deans from 1982 is still today one of the strongest images of urban farming. Deans planted 2 acres of wheat on Battery Park landfill, Manhattan. The twin towers seem to rise straight out of the field.


On a small scale Ken Ehrlich + Brandon LaBelle in the summer of 2005 made a project on Ginger, seeing the city as a giant circulation system of food and waste they planted ginger in the city, cooked and also visited the waste center to see where it all ended up.

On a similar line of thought the group "Food Not Bombs" thinks in terms of circulation, using perfectly good food that is thrown away from supermarkets, they remake and distribute food for free, and thereby reverse the excess of contemporary consumption.
In cities where living standards are low, urban food production is not a leisurely luxury but a deep necessity. In many Eastern European countries, allotment gardens in the city or its perimeter served as a buffer to have food on the table or things to trade on the local market when economy was low or the monetary system failed all together.
St. Petersburg urban gardening clubs were building on some of these experiences, making rooftop gardens and growing food in a prisons.


On a walk in Berlin, corn and tomatoes were growing on the sidewalk, making an ugly architecture almost forgivable, the size of gardening being not necessarily the most important factor. 

While urban farming often happen where there is a surplus of space or in run down neighborhood, the reverse also happens. In 2005 a group of artist Jesper Dyrehauge, Marie Markman and myself  introduced urban farming to a gentrified area in the center of Copenhagen, the urban plan, made by one of Denmark's most praised architects had left the place unused and empty. A small vegetable garden doubling as a bench changed that for the duration of the summer, and served a a point around which to discuss the planning of the area. See website

In 2006 the free soiler Nis Rømer made the exhibition "Hot summer of urban farming in Copenhagens off spaces to put focus to other cultural and agricultural uses of city spaces, as well as to put a concentrated focus to the topic from an artists point of view. Amy Franceschini and the Futurefarmers the same year started the Victory Gardens in San Francisco a scheme for growing vegetables in backyards and leftover plots

The potential for urban gardening and farming seems to be largely unused in most western European and American cities, but when you can have fresh vegetables produced locally and not transported 1000's of miles it is a better alternative, and creates more livable and less polluted cities. As the examples show, urban farming can be integrated in a variety of ways, as a part of public parks, allotment gardens, rooftop gardens or on walkways.

Garden Cities of Tomorrow
The idea of planning green cities already has a long tradition. In the early nineteen-hundreds, Ebenezer Howard hoped to combine the best of the city (work, entertainment) and the countryside (healthy living, open space) for changing the basic structures of society. The first garden town that was built after Howard's visions was Letchworth, England in 1903.

A corresponding movement happened in the United States in the 1920s and 30s, where regional cities would be planned with a sustainable approach, and be surrounded by a greenbelt to supply the inhabitants with produce. Spokesman for the Regional Planning Association of America at that time was Lewis Mumford, an advocate and leader in sustainable social planning.