Financial savings, love of fresh food and vegetables, concerns over future food security, awareness of the unsustainable nature of modern food systems: Whichever the reason, many people are finding themselves interested in urban gardening and agriculture. This means there are also many people asking, “So, where do I begin?” as they survey their grass-covered, inedible lawn. New programs at universities and community colleges across the country have started to help people interested in learning to garden, and farm, inside the city limits. Nonprofit and other grassroots organizations have also been developing along this same vein, with the end goal of creating locally focused sustainable food systems, by training new gardeners and farmers.
Urban Agriculture in the College Classroom
Many universities have added sustainable or urban agriculture to their offerings of degrees and certificate programs. There is a recognized need to train and educate leaders to successfully design and implement sustainable urban food systems. The director of such a program at the University of Georgia, Bobby Wilson, says, “The Atlanta Urban Gardening Program is more than just planting a seed and watching it grow. It’s about growing communities, training new leaders, feeding the hungry and homeless, establishing farmers markets and working with youths and adults through gardening.”
Many community colleges have also started to develop similar hands-on certificate programs. Often more affordable, the community colleges also tend to have more flexible class schedules for those interested in urban food systems training but unable to complete in a four-year college program. Johnson County Community College (JCCC) in Kansas has a mission to “help students realize their dreams of opening their own sustainable agriculture businesses.” This, and similar programs, focus on not only offering training in farming and gardening skills, but also in how to market these crops to create a successful business.
Grassroots Urban Garden Training
Many organizations in cities across the country have started in response to a growing community demand for easier access to fresh, local foods. Especially for people on tight incomes, learning to grow your own food can be one way to save money and still eat healthy, organic fruits and vegetables. Programs such as Growing Power in Chicago, Ill., meet these goals through “providing hands-on training, on-the-ground demonstration, outreach and technical assistance through the development of Community Food Systems that help people grow, process, market and distribute food in a sustainable manner.”
Beginning Farmers has started a collected resources page that compiles information on all areas of urban gardens and farms for people interested in starting their own. The page offers a list of resources for learning more about a broad range of urban farming and gardening issues, ideas, activities, events, organizations and networks. It also provides a list of local resources that provide opportunities for individuals to support and participate in urban farming and gardening activities within their own communities. Plus, you can watch urban farming videos!
If you are looking for more information about programs in your area, you can start at www.beginningfarmers.org. You can also contact your local cooperative extension office for other garden training programs and opportunities, such as becoming a Master Gardener.
Jennifer Kongs is the Managing Editor at MOTHER EARTH NEWS magazine. When she’s not working at the magazine, she’s likely working in her garden, on the local running trails or in her kitchen instead. You can find Jennifer on Twitter or Google+.