If we travel back in time to the 1930s, the average farmer could only feed four people. However, return to present day and you’d find the average farmer can now feed about 170 people. To make this number even more fascinating, our farmers are feeding more people on even less land. So, the question becomes, what’s happened to the land we used to farm: urbanization and land development.
Since land and crops can only produce a certain amount before plateauing, farmers need to become creative to provide nearly eight billion people with fresh, healthy produce. One method is urban agriculture. But, what does urban agriculture look like for Indiana? We asked some Indiana agriculture experts to find out!
What is urban agriculture?
Urban agriculture is the growing and raising of plants and livestock in or near metropolitan areas. Urban agriculture can range from backyard or balcony gardens to community gardens in vacant lots or parks, as well as using roadsides or opens spaces, even the use of rooftops to grow fruits, vegetables and herbs. The overall goals of urban agriculture range greatly from supplementing one’s personal food choices and saving money, to supporting local food shelters or for use in for-profit enterprises.
Why is this type of agriculture important?
“I feel like urban agriculture is vital because everyone needs to be an informed consumer. If nothing else, seeing urban agriculture operations around cities provides individuals with a visual of where their food comes from and how production can happen,” said Rob Hays, Indiana FFA Association director.
“Additionally, it provides opportunities for local consumers to engage in their food production. This could come in the form of assisting in community gardens/agriculture production operations or it could generate the spark that motivates someone to grow things in their own garden or patio space. Any time that individuals are more engaged in these conversations and practices, the more they understand agriculture and food production.”
Jennifer Nettles, Vincennes University agriculture/horticulture coordinator, added, “Studies have shown that the more involved you are in growing produce, the more likely you are to consume it. This is beneficial for all people.”
Nettles continued, “We need to eat healthier, whole foods and less processed foods. However, when the urban population tries to grow a garden, they might find that their soil isn't the best suited for edible plants. But there are other ways of growing produce such as hydroponics, aquaponics and vertical growing that could be used to be more creative in growing plants in the city.”
What is the current state of urban agriculture in Indiana?
“… I do know there is a growing interest in home gardens, especially since COVID-19 came along… The fear of not having the produce we are used to eating has motivated many to start thinking about growing their own food and canning it for winter,” remarked Nettles.
Brocksmith added that schools have great interest in urban agriculture, “We have had several students interested in our urban agriculture program. These students are looking at how to start their own small produce business, helping local communities with food deserts and teaching others about healthy habits.”
He continued, “Cities and towns are embracing urban agriculture to plant gardens in vacant lots and increase food security. Even our local food bank has a small garden to increase fresh produce for their consumers. Another focus is that grade schools and high schools are planting their own gardens. These are being used as teaching centers and another source of food for their cafeterias.”
“When Jennifer [Nettles] talks about hydroponics, aquaponics and vertical growing systems, people think of large operations. However, now you can buy individual systems that can fit in homes and garages. This allows people with no space to grow their own food or sell on a small scale. This is important as individuals want to be more self-sustainable.”
So, what is the estimated outlook in Indiana?
When considering our outlook, Hays noted, “I would envision the outlook being strong with a lot of opportunities in Indiana. When I think about locations such as Indianapolis, Fort Wayne, South Bend, the Northwest Region, Evansville and more, there are tons of locations that could benefit from the concepts of urban agriculture. Often, I feel like individuals only think of this happening in large cities such as Indianapolis, Chicago or New York, but other cities are just as urban in nature and have populations that could benefit just as much; in fact, I would think the reach of urban ag efforts in some of our Indiana towns could be even further because of their ‘smaller’ size.”
What other information do you have for us?
“Urban agriculture might not be a money-making career, but helping the community eat healthier foods and be more physically active while gardening will change mindsets of where your food comes from and open minds to learning a new hobby,” remarked Nettles.
Indiana Grown offers great resources for all things Indiana agriculture, including urban. Brocksmith ended by adding, “Indiana Grown is an organization that focuses on helping Indiana farmers and producers have a greater market for their products, supporting them in their effort to process more Indiana Grown products and educating consumers on the importance of buying Indiana Grown products. Check them out!”
Whether it is a patio garden or an indoor growing operation, the future for urban agriculture has great potential for the state of Indiana. With world events constantly changing how we go about our days, take a step back and reflect on how you have the potential to kickstart a movement to put an end to food deserts and food insecurity. After all, as leaders of your community, you hold the potential to make a change for agriculture.
Indiana Farm Bureau Insurance and Urban Agriculture
*The information in this article was compiled from a variety of sources and is intended to provide helpful tips only.
Indiana Farm Bureau Insurance knows farming and farmers because it was started by farmers in 1934. Indiana Farm Bureau Insurance has grown to be the largest insurer of farms and farmers in Indiana, with over 50% of the farms being insured by Indiana Farm Bureau Insurance. Indiana Farm Bureau Insurance knows and insures all types of farms from the urban farmer with backyard chickens to the largest commercial agribusiness operations in the state.
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