Urban Agriculture.

In essence, all of the agriculture F.H. King does is urban: their farm in Eagle Heights is certainly more within the city of Madison than any rural setting.  Yet although the Eagle Heights gardens and plots are an immense and impressive facility, there is a slightly more urban form of urban agriculture that interests me.  Beyond community gardens, the garden beds found atop buildings or sprinkled in amongst them fascinate me.  This type of urban agriculture is about reusing vacant spaces that would otherwise be wasted by turning them into flourishing, edible gardens.

Over the past few years, F.H. King and the Pyle Center have come together in a joint project to promote this alternative form of urban agriculture.  The Pyle Center, a University of Wisconsin Extension Conference Center, is located beside the Red Gym at 702 Langdon Street.

Last year, six beautiful raised beds were cultivated in the Pyle Center courtyard, and this year, the project became large enough to acquire an additional 5 beds, of varying sizes, on the rooftop (as well as an F.H. King urban agriculture intern to help assist with garden maintenance)!  The produce grown in the Pyle Center gardens is distributed at Harvest Handouts alongside the fresh herbs and veggies grown at F.H. King’s Eagle Heights farm.

This joint project, besides providing more free produce to Madison residents, provides a great opportunity to learn about the many benefits of urban agriculture within cities.

As you could see by visiting both the rooftop and courtyard gardens at the Pyle Center, urban agriculture brings a lot of color into the usual monotone of modern buildings.  The benefits to employees and urban dwellers have been well researched: more nature in the work place and cities makes people worry less and feel more at ease.  It has even been found that hospital patients situated in rooms with windows facing green spaces have quicker recovery times on average.

However, beyond the aesthetics of urban agriculture, it is a way of better utilizing urban spaces.

Increasingly, people on all continents are moving rapidly into cities.  Around 50 percent of the world’s population now lives in cities.  The United Nations projects that this number will rise to 65 percent by 2050!  People move for greater economic opportunities and access to any number of centralized services located within cities, but there are repercussions.  As once rural populations who grew some proportion of their own food move to cities, all of their food now needs to be produced elsewhere.  More and more forests are destroyed to extend fields in order to feed the city populations while many urban surfaces are left underutilized.  The concept of urban agriculture is that of efficiency.  Urban agriculture is about using space that is already vacant in order to grow food and remove some of the burden from rural areas.

Our small rooftop and courtyard gardens focus on producing fresh produce as well as aesthetics, but an additional advantage of larger-scale urban agriculture is that they help reduce some of the negative environmental impacts of cities and large buildings.

Greenspace sprinkled within cities helps reduce the heat island effect: a phenomena that occurs within cities because of the density of bulidings, traffic and people.  Particulate matter from this density acts as a small ozone surrounding cities and the radiated heat from the sun is trapped within this “ozone layer”.  More plants within cities helps to reduce this effect by using the sunlight for growth rather than just storing the heat.  At the same time, plants help to reduce the large carbon dioxide impact of cities.  In addition, plants act as a natural filter to the urban environment, removing nitrogen pollution and acidity from rain water.

As I walk around Madison, I am hopeful about the future of urban agriculture.  Not only is the city littered with community gardens,  but many households are finding ways to grow some proportion of their own food, whether it be in containers or small, raised beds.  Increasingly, businesses are warming up to the idea of green roofs and cultivating more edible green spaces.

It seems the urban farming movement is here to stay, and as it moves forward rapidly, the University of Wisconsin Extension and  F.H. King continue to be at the forefront of new ideas and innovative strategies, mastering the art of growing vegetables on rooftops!