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Home > Feature Articles > Agriculture & Organic Production

Urban and Periurban Agriculture...what?

Urban Agriculture is different from, and complementary to, rural agriculture in local food systems.

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plants gardening green agriculture crops food I'm familiar with "urban agriculture"...both in practice and as a term. But "periurban" is a new term. Looking up what this provocative term means took the provocativeness away. Periurban just means "on the fringe". But getting back to the story...

Urban agriculture (UA) is probably as old as our cities, but never received much attention from scientists until recently. It is estimated that, today, some 800 million people are engaged in urban agriculture worldwide (Smit 1996). Of these, 200 million are market producers.

American cities probably don't have as much agriculture as other countries with less developed food systems. However, even California cities have fostered backyard gardening and community gardens as a way to meet nutritional needs for fresh vegetables and fruits among low income groups. Immigrants bring many agricultural skills and desires with them. Young families like to teach their children how plants grow and how their food is connected to the earth. Fresh herbs provide cultural or ethnic flavoring to meals that might not be readily available in local markets. And many people just prefer the freshness of food they pluck from their own gardens.

But urban agriculture also plays a valuable "redundancy" role in community stability and survival during tough economic times and wartime. Many communities around the world rely on urban agriculture when disasters -- both natural and manmade -- interrupt food supplies.

Urban Agriculture is different from, and complementary to, rural agriculture in local food systems. One of its main characteristics is its integration into the local urban economic and ecological system. Its strength resides in the fact that it often finds its origin in community spirit and existing strong social cohesion. The competition of UA with other land uses has been put forward as typical for UA leading to one possible definition: UA is that form of agriculture carried out within or on the outskirts of a city where non-agricultural use of local resources is a real option.

Thus, we can define UA as an industry located within (intraurban) or on the fringe (periurban) of a town, a city or a metropolis, which grows or raises, processes and distributes a diversity of food and non-food products, (re-)using largely human and material resources, products and services found in and around that urban area, and in turn supplying human and material resources, products and services largely to that area (Mougeot 2000).

The expression 'urban agriculture' (UA) has now been adopted by UN agencies such as the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

In the U.S., the Department of Agriculture has long distributed information and skills for urban agriculture through the state-based land grant universities. These "State" universities offer continuing education curricula, as well as outreach programs through "County Extension" programs for families, youth and small farmers.

The land-grant university was one of America's great contributions to higher education. Chartered in 1868, as California's only land grant institution, the University of California has reached into every nook and cranny of the state. Background information:

California Agriculture Editorial about the History...
Cooperative Extension (CE), the extension arm of the land-grant university, involves a unique three-way partnership between federal, state, and county...

University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE), is the Agriculturea nd Natural Resources' outreach arm -- which has farm, 4-H, and nutrition, family and consumer sciences advisors based in more than 50 county offices. In addition, Cooperative Extension specialists are headquartered at UC Berkeley, UC Davis, and UC Riverside, where they conduct research and coordinate advisors’ activities. As a land-grant institution, the Cooperative Extension mandate is tied to the welfare, development, and protection of California agriculture, natural resources, and people. You can find links to the County Cooperative Extension offices here.


Edited by Carolyn Allen, owner/editor of California Green Solutions
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