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Urban Farming: The New Hip Thing.

Urban Farming: The New Hip Thing.

P.F.1 (public farm 1) at P.S.1, NYC summer 2008 (photo by Chef's Blade editor)

Cynthia Houng | Chef's Blade

This article was originally published by Mountain Hardwear

“Urban farming” is the hip new thing.

Maybe it’s the economy. Or maybe Americans are just going through a “green” phase. Suddenly, urban farming is everywhere-it’s in the news, in magazines, on television. Artists are getting on the bandwagon, too. Urban farming is so trendy that the New York Times even ran an article about hip young urbanites who replaced their lawns with home orchards. Composting is sexy now.

The urban farming concept is simple: grow good food close to home. Advocates of urban farming argue that the practice eliminates unnecessary fuel consumption, reduces our carbon footprints, and encourages good eating habits. For some families, a successful kitchen garden helps stretch the paycheck. Some families even manage to supplement their paychecks by selling extra produce at local farmers’ markets.

In these hands, gardening becomes more than a leisure activity, rejoining the household economy. Before the 19th century, only the very wealthy could afford to keep decorative gardens. You and I would have spent our time digging around in our kitchen gardens, growing herbs, fruit, and other edibles to supplement our diet. Certain garden forms—such as the English cottage garden or the Italian courtyard garden—once existed not for pleasure, but for sustenance.

Today, advocates of “urban farming” hope to take us back to gardening’s utilitarian roots. Whether we call them “urban farms,” “kitchen gardens,” “Victory gardens,” or some hybrid of these terms, these spaces are supposed to produce useful things, like food.

In cities like Oakland and Detroit, urban gardens give low-income families access to fresh food, grown with organic, sustainable methods. In economically depressed areas, such as West Oakland, grocery stores are scarce, and residents have few options. Low-income households are more likely to consume processed food, or visit fast food restaurants, than their affluent counterparts. Grocers refuse to service these markets, because the costs are high-and the profits are negligible. Urban gardens represent a way to get fresh food onto the menu. If residents have access to fresh food, they just might choose vegetables over processed foods-and lower their risk of developing diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and other diseases associated with poverty.