Urban farming taking 'root' in Grand Rapids

Several urban farms across the state are helping transform unused urban land into productive agriculture property.

When you picture a farm the first thing that probably comes to mind is a house on a country road with a barn and a few nearby silos with rows of corn or soybeans in a field off in the distance. While this image of a farm would not be inaccurate, the definition of what a makes a farm is shifting. Farms are beginning to make the transition from a rural and pastoral activity to an urban one.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s website for urban agriculture lists several different definitions, but all of them have some things in common -- mainly, that the farming takes place within an urban or suburban area and is used as a tool to bring communities together around the production, distribution, and consumption of food. Many urban farms have been created as a way to foster educational opportunities for underserved or food insecure populations. Michigan is looking to become one of the leaders in urban agriculture development and research through a proposed project in Detroit. Urban farming is being seen as a solution to the growing problem of blight in the Detroit area, turning abandoned lots into productive agriculture land.

Urban agriculture is taking off on the west side of the state as well. There are several growing operations taking shape within the city limits of Grand Rapids hoping to provide healthy food to nearby residents and restaurants. One example is Uptown Farm, which was started by several community members in the city’s East Hills neighborhood. While the farm had a late start to the growing season during its first year, members were still able to grow food to sell to local restaurants such as Bartertown Diner and The Green Well. The group plans to get started much earlier in the farm’s second season and are hoping to expand supply by connecting with other urban growers to find more growing land in the city limits and share resources.

There has even been talk of forming an official urban farm co-op in Grand Rapids, an innovative way to take some of the risk and share resources amongst a number of urban growers. Cooperatives are a popular way for stakeholders along the food supply chain to work together to produce, package, distribute or even sell agricultural products. To learn more about the benefits of co-ops and the beginning steps to starting one of your own contact the Michigan State University Product Center – Food, Ag, Bio or your local Michigan State University Extension educator. By bringing food production into urban settings; initiatives and programs like Uptown Farm in Grand Rapids are helping to redefine the agriculture landscape.

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