Friday, July 4, 2014

Starting an Urban Farm? This Site Can Help.

As local food has gained popularity, more city folks are growing food in their own backyards. Now they have a new online resource to consult about urban farming. The University of California Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources has launched a website to provide practical, science-based information for urban agriculture.

At the University of California's Agriculture and Natural Resources' Urban Agricultural website ( ) visitors will find information on raising livestock, crop production, marketing and policies for farming in their backyards, on a few acres, at a school or in a community setting.

Rachel Surls, a UC Cooperative Extension advisor in Los Angeles County, and a team including UCCE farm advisors, policy and advocacy experts, urban planners, agricultural economists and others created the new urban agriculture website in response to the results of a UC survey of urban farmers in California.

"Our team interviewed urban farmers around the state about their challenges and successes, and what information they really needed as they got started," said Surls, who specializes in sustainable food systems. "Based on their needs, we looked for science-based educational materials that would be helpful and packaged them into this website.

"The site will be a resource for urban farmers who are selling what they grow, as well as school and community gardeners, and folks who are keeping some backyard chickens and bees.  We also intend it to be a resource for local policy makers who are making decisions that impact farming in California cities." 

Many urban farmers are beginning farmers, according to Surls. "They need basic information on planting, pests and irrigation, as well as information that's more specific to farming in the city," she said. "For example, they must navigate local laws and regulations that impact farming which include zoning and health codes."

The UC ANR Urban Agriculture website also advises urban farmers about environmental issues that they may encounter.

"Urban soils can sometimes be contaminated and may need testing and remediation," Surls said. "Farming close to neighbors in the city can also bring special challenges."

She encourages people to check back for updates as the Urban Ag website continues to grow.

"We'll also share stories about urban farms around California and news around the state about urban agriculture policies and initiatives," Surls said.

(information provided by UCANR)