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Six Inspirational Success Stories In Urban Agriculture

Earth Eats looks at a number of inspirational urban farming and gardening programs from around the country. Which are your favorites?

Urban agriculture is great way to eat local and reduce your food miles while supporting your local community. Here are some inspirational urban agriculture projects that have been in the news recently, which are your favorites?

#1: Cleveland Shopping Mall To Urban Farm

The Galleria at Erieview mall in Cleveland, Ohio is in the process of being reborn as an urban farm thanks to a project called Gardens Under Glass.

galleria mall in cleveland

Photo: Scallop Holden (flickr)

Formerly a two story retail space, the galleria makes a great location for an urban farm: it has a year round temperature controlled enviornment, and will use "recirculating greenhouse hydroponics" to grow produce.

The head of the organization, Vicky Poole, hopes the farm will attract vegetarian restaurants, health food stores, garden supply stores, more farmers’ stalls and recycled goods shops, so it can grow to become a “retail ecovillage” and stimulate economic growth in Cleveland’s downtown financial district.

Another goal of the project is to “educate the public on the ease of integrating urban agriculture and natural energy sources” into their lives.

#2: San Francisco Freeway Becomes A Farm

On a San Francisco freeway on-ramp where cars and trucks once travelled now stands an urban farming project called Hayes Valley Farm (HVF).

Chris Burley, the Project Director for HVF was approached by the San Francisco mayor’s office to start the project and the farm opened earlier this year on a former on-ramp to highway 101, after he realized there was some unused land in the middle of San Francisco after the Loma Prieta earthquake.

workers at hayes valley farm

Photo: edibleoffice (flickr)

"Hayes Valley Farm is an education and research project with a focus on urban agriculture. Situated on San Francisco city-owned lots bordered by Oak, Fell, Laguna, and Octavia streets, the project is organized by an alliance of urban farmers, educators, and designers."

Now the farm functions as a community space, education center, and demonstration garden for people to come to volunteer and grow food. HVF offers several classes on garden design, composting and permaculture, and there are volunteers that are working on building new soil on top of concrete.

The project started in January, but unfortunately is only temporary (the farmers expect to be able to use the land for 2-5 years) until the city moves forward with other plans for developing the land.

“Our main yield is education,” Burley told Urban Farm Hub. “We’re trying to teach folks about growing their own food on balconies, back yards, open-air parking lots and pavement backyards.”

#3: Urban Gardens In Denver

Denver Urban Gardens (DUG)  are celebrating 25 years of community garden projects with the installation of their 100th garden at Ruby Hill Park this year.  These gardens are initiated and maintained  by the community and are found in mostly low-income urban neighborhoods in Denver, CO.

Two of the nearly 100 projects:

The Delaney Community Farm is a 30 acre farm that provides food for around 500 families. They offer a CSA program as well as a work for food program for WIC participants (WIC is the federal aid program for Women, Infants and Children), where the participants provide one hour of work each week in exchange for a bag of fresh produce.

Sustained by a small crew of interns and a larger crew of volunteers, the farm also produces flowers and herbs, which are harvested on a pick-your-own basis. Additionally, the farm hosts educational opportunities, including compost building, beekeeping, organic growing, and herb and vegetable preservation workshops.

Learn More: The Delaney Community Farm (website)

The Troy Chavez Peace Garden was created as a memorial for Ana Chavez’s son, Troy, a victim of gang violence when he was only 16.

The garden was built to resemble an Aztec Ball Court, with courtyards surrounded by plantings of sage, St. John’s wort, rosemary, and echinacea. A local alternative school manages crops in the back half of the garden alongside community plots.

More Projects: Denver Urban Gardens (website)

#4: Commercial Urban Farming In Seattle

Community gardening and urban agriculture is hardly new to the Seattle area. The city’s P-Patch program has been supporting community gardens in the city for over 37 years, with 73 gardens currently covering 23 acres and serving 2056 households.

The Seattle Times recently profiled several urban farms in the city that have been experimenting with growing crops for profit.

One of these farms, Seattle Market Gardens runs two CSA gardens farmed by residents in Southeast and Southwest Seattle. In 2009 Seattle Market Gardens provided produce for approximately 79 households over the 22 weeks they were in operation.

Another interesting project is Magic Bean Farm in West Seattle. Seven homeowners have donated their yard to be farmed, amounting to a total growing space of about half an acre.The farmers use hand cultivation and regenerative agriculture to eliminate the use of large tractors, and they don’t use any pesticide chemicals or sprays. The farm offers a CSA program and in exchange for the use of their yards, the homeowners each receive a portion of the harvest.

Learn More: Seattle yards become farms: Business grows from the ground up (

#5: Growing Power In The Midwest

Growing Power was started by Will Allen (recently named to the Time 100) as a small urban farming project in Milwaukee, Wisconsin that aimed to help inner city youth find work while growing clean, healthy and affordable food for the community. The project has since grown to include urban and rural agriculture projects in Wisconsin and Illinois.

Growing Power’s main food center in Milwaukee now contains 20,000 plants and vegetables, as well as thousands of fish, chickens, goats, ducks, rabbits and bees.

will allen holding a net full of tilapia

Photo: grifay (flickr)

Will Allen showing a net full of tilapia at Growing Power in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Growing Power prides itself on its ability to grow all crops sustainably, which means all produce is at or above current organic standards. They don’t use any synthetic chemicals on any of their crops; instead they hand pick weeds and control pests with beneficial insects.

Aside from providing quality food to their community, Growing Power is also providing an example to educate and encourage people all over the country to create similar projects that can be replicated in any neighborhood.

Growing Power’s web site says, “Our methods are not fancy, they are efficient and effective, and hopefully coming to a neighborhood near you.”

Learn More: Growing Power (website)

#6: New Roots For Refugees In Kansas City

New Roots for Refugees is a partnership between Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas and the Kansas City Center for Urban Agriculture.

The program is currently helping 14 women to “put down new roots” by starting their own small farm businesses to grow and sell vegetables.


Photo: maureen lunn (flickr)

One of the farmers at the New Roots for Refugees Farm in Kansas City, picks flowers for a CSA.

From a recent Grist article:

Once accepted into the program — and after at least one year with a community garden plot — the farmers receive a quarter-acre plot. For the first year, everything is paid for, including seeds, tools, water, and marketing. Rachel even sets up two CSA members who pay to support the plot’s crop. Gradually, the farmers take on more responsibility.

Learn More: New Roots For Refugees (website)

#7? Urban Farming In YOUR Community

Do you have any interesting urban agriculture projects in your area? Leave a comment and let us know about some other inspirational stories you’ve seen.

Ariel Ivas

Ariel Ivas is a summer intern with Earth Eats and a senior at Indiana University, majoring in English with a concentration in creative writing, with a minor in telecommunications.

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    I love these ideas, especially the mall. That is going to one awesome place when finished. I hope it takes off and flourishes.

  • Brie

    What a wonderful piece! I'm involved with Hayes Valley Farm, and we were so excited to see the farm in Earth Eats. It's really is an amazing time for urban farming–and an honor to see the farm in such amazing company.

    I just wanted to clarify that, while Chris Burley helped launch the project, it was actually the Mayor's office that approached him to activate the lot for community use. The project wouldn't exist without the blessing and support of the City's Office of Workforce and Economic Development and the San Francisco Parks Trust. There's a great piece about San Francisco's new urban gardens and City's role in reviving empty lots at SFGate:

    The City also launched a Directive for Healthy and Sustainable Food for San Francisco, which calls for increasing local food production. Hayes Valley Farm helps the City in advancing this directive:

    Again, thanks for the wonderful piece!

    Brie Mazurek
    Hayes Valley Farm

  • Indiana Public Media

    Thanks for the clarification, Brie. Just reworded that sentence a bit to make that more clear. – AS

  • Rchristensen

    As co-author of the online SPIN-Farming learning series, what I see every day are more and more first generation farmers throughout the U.S. and Canada using SPIN’s franchise-ready system to take the task of relocalizing food production into their own hands, wherever they happen to live. SPIN greatly reduces the amount of land needed for commercial crop production, so these first-time farmers are using backyards, front lawns and neighborhood lots to start their farm businesses. You can see some of these entrepreneurial urban farmers in action at

  • Brie

    Thanks so much!

  • Jodi

    Urban agriculture is alive and well in Montana, thanks to Garden City Harvest! Each year, this nonprofit grows thousands of pounds of food for the food bank and homeless shelter and provides dozens of garden plots for people without their own growing space. With seven community gardens, and three urban farms plus a new cooperative project with Missoula Youth Homes, Garden City Harvest makes a huge difference in a community with significant food security problems and a growing season of only about 120 days a year. Check them out at

  • guest

    it would be nice if you used real numbers (not inflated ones based on scaling up to 1 acre from 1000 sq ft) to show folks what they would really be getting into. It is almost criminal some of the promises SPIN-Farming makes… go and do some real research instead of marketing.

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