Activities for Module VI, Urban Agriculture
Activities for Section A: What is Urban Agriculture?
- Activity 1: So, What do We Mean by “Urban”?
- Activity 2: Where Can You Farm in the City?
- Activity 3: Urban Agriculture: What People Grow and Why
Activity 1: So, What do we Mean by “Urban”?
Purpose: Students will think more carefully about the definitions of “urban” and “rural.” They will consider how the urban landscape differs from the rural landscape.
Advance preparation: Display a state map on the wall. On a whiteboard, make two columns– one labeled “urban” and the other “rural.”
Estimated time: 15 to 30 minutes
- Ask students to look at the state map and select cities or towns that they would define as “urban.”
- Point to villages (such as Black Earth or Tomahawk in Wisconsin) and ask students if these communities are “urban” or “rural.” Have students look up the population of these communities.
- Share the US census definition of “urban.” [The Bureau of the Census defines urban as “comprising all territory, population, and housing units located in urbanized areas and in places of 2,500 or more inhabitants outside of urban areas. The term urban refers to both kinds of geographic entities.”] Discuss with students. Does the definition seem reasonable or is the lower limit of 2,500 a little arbitrary?
- Ask students to give examples of features in an urban landscape or rural landscape and write down their suggestions in each column on the whiteboard. For an urban landscape, students might suggest stores, factories, gas stations, parks, office buildings, residential neighborhoods with houses built close together, etc. For a rural landscape, students might suggest farm fields, woodlands, single houses, barns, fences, and so forth. How might these different landscape features affect farming?
- Notice how many farms are in less densely populated areas. How might this impact food production (labor)? How does this impact the environmental sustainability of our food system? Our food travels a long way!
Activity 2: Where Can You Farm in the City?
Purpose: Students will consider where agriculture is possible in an urban environment. They will think about some of the positive and negative aspects of farming in the city.
Advance preparation: Become familiar with Google Earth.
Go to the Google Earth website. States, counties, and cities can be found by clicking on the search icon on the left-hand side. You can then zoom in/out and navigate to nearby locations using your curser.
Make sure individual students or groups of students have web access.
Estimated time: 30 minutes
- Have students look at a city neighborhood with Google Earth. If students live in a smaller community or rural area, suggest a city they can look at. If they live in the city, it might be more meaningful to have the students look at an aerial view of their own neighborhood.
- As students look at the aerial view of city neighborhoods, ask them to think about where they might be able to have a small farm plot. If there’s time, have them compare different areas of the city (such as the downtown to the suburbs or the outskirts of the city).
- Optional: Have students look at the city of Detroit on Google Earth and compare it to another city. (The population of Detroit decreased by over 1 million during the last 4 decades. As jobs moved out of the city, many homes were abandoned. The city government demolished the abandoned and deteriorated structures, so some neighborhoods have numerous vacant lots.)
- Did students see any locations that could be used as a small farm plot?
- What did they see that might be a barrier to farming in an urban area? Is there too little space? Is there too much shade? Would vandalism be a problem?
- What might be an advantage to farming in a city? Would there be easy access to markets such as grocery stores or direct-to-consumer sales such as farmers markets? Would clean water be available? Is the climate in the city any different from rural areas? (Note: Because of what is called the heat island effect, cities are generally a few degrees warmer than the surrounding countryside so urban farmers may enjoy more frost-free days for growing their produce than nearby rural farmers. The negative consequences may be greater heat stress in the summer months.)
- How does Detroit compare to other cities?
Activity 3: Urban Agriculture: What People Grow and Why
Purpose: To encourage students to think about what can be grown in the city and the reasons motivating urban growers.
Advance preparation: Print out copies of the Activity 3 worksheet.
Estimated time: 30 minutes
- Divide the class into small groups and give each group a printout of the worksheet.
- Let each group have 10 to 15 minutes to work on the handout. As they work, have them think about the limited growing space in urban areas that they learned about in the Google Earth exercise.
- How much space is needed to grow a vegetable like broccoli versus grains like soybeans?
- If a home gardener has a limited amount of yard space, should they grow spinach or watermelons? Which takes more space?
- In urban areas, does it make more sense to grow fresh vegetables that have a short shelf life or a crop that can be stored for long periods (such as wheat)?
- If a grower has a short-term lease on a vacant parcel of land, which crop should she or he grow (i.e., crops like broccoli or tomatoes, or crops like asparagus or apple trees that take several years or longer to get established)?
- Why do you think wheat and soybeans are more commonly grown in rural agriculture settings?
When discussing possible reasons for urban agriculture have students think about issues they’ve learned about in previous modules, such as food safety, pesticide use, and food miles. Other reasons for urban agriculture might be the economic benefits of growing fresh, affordable produce in a home garden or community garden, concerns about food equity and justice, and the desire to start a small agricultural business.