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Housed in CALS, the Cornell Small Farms Program seeks to to build more diverse, equitable and sustainable food systems.

March 26, 2021

CALS Researchers Imagine Future of Urban Farming

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Making the case for urban agriculture, Cornell researchers have presented a vision for greener cities and a more equitable future for farmers.

The Cornell Small Farms Program, housed in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, is responsible for a body of research that advocates for the development of viable small farms throughout New York State. 

Cornell Small Farms continues to advocate for urban agriculture through emerging projects such as Urban Ag, which focuses on highlighting the considerations farmers need to make to farms in urban environments and cites examples of successful urban farming.

As part of the program’s mission to ensure a future of rural and urban agriculture through research and educational opportunities, Director of the Cornell Small Farms Program, Dr. Anusuya Rangarajan and Urban Agriculture Specialist of the Cornell Small Farms Program, Molly Riordan published “The Promise of Urban Agriculture” in 2019. 

The authors argue in the report that urban farms have the potential to become commercially viable, adding that up to now, much of the existing research has focused on the impact of urban agriculture on social indicators, such as community development and educational attainment.

According to Riordan, the make of a viable urban farm depends on factors such as the laws and regulations of a municipality, the availability and affordability of land and opportunities available for season extension.

To produce a more comprehensive picture of the future of urban agriculture, Rangarajan and Riordan started by collecting data, speaking to an active network of growers.  

“Every time we spoke with someone, we asked, ‘Who else should we speak with about commercial farming in cities?’” Riordan said in an email. “Inevitably that led us to more conversations that broadened and deepened our understanding. We spoke with over 160 individuals in the course of the study.” 

Since publication, the multiple findings and recommendations of the report have started to take effect. Partnering with Rooted, an urban agriculture training organization, Cornell Small Farms has been working to introduce training for urban farmers to help improve commercial viability. 

Riordan said that the farms, specifically those in controlled environments, have been known to generate considerable finances and interest from venture capital, alongside the development of more technology-focused urban farms. Likewise, technical assistance, research and training will be essential in increasing the number of urban farms in the coming years.

As the researchers envisioned the future of urban agriculture, they were acutely aware of the concerns that still impact the field. One of the major challenges for urban farmers is, despite the typically smaller nature of the farms, urban land access. 

“Knowing that urban growers struggle for access to land, especially Black, Indigenous, immigrant and other farmers of color, institutions can do more to lift up their voices and put the weight and the funding of the institutions behind BIPOC farmers’ fight for land access and other resources in both urban and rural spaces,” Riordan said in an email.