An innovative inter-departmental collaboration, Urban AgricultureStat, launched in June with a motion passed by Cincinnati City Council. The goal is to expand Cincinnati's urban agriculture footprint and invest in ways to develop blighted properties for the purpose of urban farming.
“Many cities, including Cincinnati, have highly successful urban agriculture programs, and many of those programs are expanding,” says Larry Falkin, director of the Office of Environment and Sustainability. “Currently, gardening is occurring on approximately 40 city-owned parcels.”
OES, working with other City departments including law, health, economic development, planning and water, is developing a pilot project to convert publicly owned vacant land or buildings into urban farms.
“Next step will be presenting a report to the City Council,” says Falkin. “OES always tries to learn from both the successes and failures in our own programs and those in peer cities.”
Sidestreams Garden in Madisonville
As urban farming grows in popularity globally, the benefits — open green space, absorption of carbon and heat, sourcing local food and developing local economies — are being weighed against the potential drawbacks. Agriculture needs considerable space and water, which could limit land development options and impact a city’s potable water supply.
Cities including Austin, Detroit and Vancouver have had complaints from community residents about land use, access, odors and especially neighbor engagement and inclusion. RE: VISION in Denver has successfully worked with residents to develop an extensive urban agriculture program. Across Cincinnati, community organizations have started neighborhood gardens.
“Over the past several years, we have engaged in conversations with residents about what we as a community should do with vacant/blighted lots in Lower Price Hill,” says Mary Delaney, executive director of Community Matters. “After many conversations and a few vision gatherings, we heard a desire for space to garden.”
Community Matters hired a resident leader to coordinate the garden project and engage the community. Its test project, converting an empty lot on St. Michael Street into a garden, was so successful that two additional gardens were created and, this year, four neighborhood teenagers were hired as summer garden apprentices.
“I believe that urban farming is a great way to activate vacant properties and engage residents in ‘owning’ the spaces,” says Delaney. “Urban farming could also be a source of employment. I think Waterfields, a local aquaponics company that started in Lower Price Hill, is a great example of this. They have a great business model and are dedicated to providing sustainable wage jobs to local residents.”
Over the coming months, Urban AgricultureStat will be working with community stakeholders to research and plan for a future expansion of the City’s urban agriculture program.