The growth of community gardens, educational farms, school greenhouses, college plots, backyard growers, rooftop gardens and container operations in urban areas of the US indicates the current breadth of interest in producing food by city residents. Such a flowering has not been seen in many years. The history of agriculture in cities, however, goes back thousands of years and may surprise some readers. We have traced that history here.
There are of course clear difficulties with such growing in contemporary America, especially issues of soil toxicity and access to land, on both of which we have articles in this issue. The larger strengths and weaknesses of urban agriculture are also addressed here from an agro-ecological perspective.
One of the most striking features of this phenomenon, of course, is how heavily it is the work of people of color, primarily African-American but also Latinx communities. The demographics of marginalized groups in American farming are traced in another article, as well as their contributions to the science, technology, and business aspects of agricultural success.
Our features, one on urban farming in a historically African-American community in Brooklyn and one on a CSA focusing on front-line communities and racial justice activists in Providence and Boston, both illustrate the realities of raising food for urban residents with a special concern for being led by, and serving, people of color.
Many NOFA farmers and homesteaders, of course, are white and primarily rural. Even our gardening and landscaping members are far more suburban than inner city residents. Yet the realities of our work with soil, seeds, tools and weather are closely aligned, wherever we farm. The issues of toxic chemicals, food safety, market regulation, economic viability, crop quality, even succession are very much the same.
It is our hope that with this issue urban, suburban, and rural growers will all see the common features that unite us. Such a consciousness, we feel, can help us forge an alliance in the work we need to do together to address the myriad ills of today’s food system.