KnowledgeBase Collection

Urban Agriculture

Designed by vectorjuice / Freepik

Designed by vectorjuice / Freepik

Public interest in locally grown food, coupled with an awareness of the positive environmental, social, and economic impacts of agricultural uses on urban areas, has inspired many city residents to pursue small-scale agricultural activities on both private and public lands. As the community gardening and urban agriculture movements gain popularity and the benefits become more apparent, many local governments have adopted policies and regulations that sanction or support community gardens and urban farming.

From this page you can search for resources that provide background, policy guidance, and examples of comprehensive plans and zoning ordinances that address urban agriculture from across the country. And you can filter these search results by various geographic and demographic characteristics.


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Urban Agriculture

The growing awareness of community and public health issues, the benefits of green space, the economic development potential of small-scale specialty farming enterprises, and fears about food security have combined to provide a groundswell of support for small-scale, sustainable urban agriculture efforts in many cities and counties across the country.

In cities, important sources of local food production can range from individuals’ balconies or backyards to for-profit market gardens or urban farms, and many places are focusing on the promotion of community gardens for their grassroots nature and community development potential. Community gardens improve the environment, provide healthy food choices and activities to residents, strengthen local food systems, and can support economic development strategies and community empowerment. Fueled by the success of these small, nonprofit agricultural endeavors, many cities and urban agriculture supporters are now exploring the possibilities of using urban lands for small-scale, commercial urban farms to expand food production and economic development potential.   

Planning for Urban Agriculture

The ideal starting point for urban agriculture planning is a community engagement process through which planners identify how urban agriculture contributes to the social, economic, and environmental goals of a community. Local and regional governments play important roles in legitimizing urban agriculture as a recognized land use or community development strategy. By identifying existing community needs that urban agriculture can address, inventorying necessary local resources, and evaluating current policies and legislation, local governments can work to effectively integrate urban agriculture considerations into the plan-making process.

Many local governments are beginning to see the connections among comprehensive planning, neighborhood development and revitalization, health, food policy, and sustainability. Urban agriculture is typically viewed as a strategy to achieve larger social or environmental goals, and it relates to many elements within the comprehensive planning process. Open-space goals and policies can encourage the conversion of vacant or abandoned land to urban agriculture and the preservation of existing urban agriculture. Economic development goals and policies can lead to new financing tools for urban agriculture development; tax incentives can encourage the location of urban agriculture in underserved neighborhoods on vacant property. Housing goals and policies can encourage urban agriculture near affordable housing through the provision of community gardens, rooftop gardens, and community kitchens in multifamily and low-income neighborhoods. Community health goals and policies can support access to fresh fruits and vegetables through community gardening, sales of produce from urban farms, and education and outreach to residents about the benefits of healthy, fresh foods.

Regulating Urban Agriculture

A commonly cited barrier to urban agriculture has been its absence from, if not prohibition by, local zoning codes. However, a growing number of communities are revising zoning standards to formally acknowledge community gardens and urban agriculture uses as permitted uses in existing zoning districts. Some have created new zoning districts to set aside specific areas for community gardens or urban farms. Others have included urban agriculture as a desirable amenity within planned unit development (PUD) project guidelines or in conservation subdivision regulations.

Ordinance provisions often acknowledge different intensities of urban agricultural activities. A common distinction is between gardens that grow food for personal consumption (or donation) and market gardens or urban farms that grow food for sale. Some communities draw additional distinctions based on size or the range of permissible activities on site. Use standards may address elements such as setbacks, hours of operation, storage, accessory structures, odor and noise, fencing, lighting, composting, and whether animals or on-site sales of produce are permitted. Some places have standards for accessory agriculture-related structures such as greenhouses and hoophouses, and others have added ordinances allowing for the keeping of urban livestock, including bees, chickens, and goats.

Other local policies besides zoning can be used to sanction or encourage specific activities related to urban agriculture. These policies include land-use policies that permit public land to be used for gardens or farms, land disposition policies that permit surplus municipal properties to be acquired by for urban agriculture, and policies and regulations that strengthen the infrastructure for widespread urban agriculture.

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Support for this collection was provided by the Growing Food Connections Agriculture and Food Research Initiative Competitive Grant no. 2012-68004-19894 from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.