Urban agriculture can include community gardens; larger scale urban farms or orchards; growing vegetables, fruits, herbs and spices for market; raising chickens or livestock and keeping bees. It also may include growing flowers and non-food crops for landscaping and other uses.
Turning known and suspected brownfields, vacant lots and abandoned structures into gardens, farms and agriculture benefits the community by increasing property values, removing environmental hazards, improving soil and reducing stormwater runoff. Gardens and urban agriculture can connect cultures and encourage healthy eating habits while teaching useful skills. They increase outdoor physical activity for urban residents, many of whom do not have access to a local park or open space for recreation. Residents get an opportunity to plan, build and improve an area through shared efforts, and they can help increase access to fresh, healthy foods in neighborhoods without supermarkets.
What to Know Before You Grow
Communities that want to transform a property into urban agriculture should assess it for environmental contaminants to identify potential risks to public health and the environment.
EPA’s Brownfields Program offers grant funding and technical assistance that can help communities assess and clean up a property proposed for a community garden or urban farm. Assessments look at the property history to identify potential contaminants that may require soil and groundwater testing.
Environmental contaminants, if found, may be present at low levels that pose no risk. However, there are a number of alternative methods that do not involve growing plants directly in the soil. Some alternative technologies include raised beds, hydroponic or aquaponic systems, and vertical or container-based gardening systems. Greenhouses can be used instead to provide clean soil and a safer environment for plants to grow. Additionally, if growing foods is not possible in or near the contaminated soil, growing non-food crops may be an option or making the land available to sell foods is another option. Cleaning or capping the sites to locate a farmer’s market, supermarket or other retail food source can still provide healthy affordable food in your community.