Urban Agriculture



We all need food to survive. The scary thing is, if you read the labels in the supermarket carefully, most of our food come from far away places by the way of freightliners, trains and trucks—modes of transportation that require lots of fossil fuel. What if one day the fossil fuel (our fuel of choice today) price skyrockets? Our food will be so expensive that we may not able to afford it.

That is just one of many reasons for urban agriculture. Growing food at a place near where it will be consumed means less cost to transport it. Governments in oil producing countries oversea will not be able to determine how much a carrot will cost for us, now that we eliminated the transportation factor. The produce will also be fresher, tastier, and far more nutritious than the ones that sat in the back of a truck for a couple of days, sprayed with chemicals to prevent it from spoiling.

There are also the social aspect to consider. Ask a child where a potato comes from, you might be surprised with the answer. “Supermarket” may just be one of the possibilities, but don’t be surprised if the answer is “from a tree?”. Thanks to modern conveniences, we do not have to toil in the fields to grow our own dinner, but it also means a loss of common knowledge of where our food comes from, and along with that, respect for our food.


Study your site

You have a plot of land, an area where you can grow--before you start spading it up, make sure you have a workable piece of land by doing a little bit of research. What was there before? If it is in an urban setting, chances are there was a structure there that had been demolished. Are you standing on a compacted pile of rubble from a house? Former gas station? Toxic chemical storage site? If the ground is undesirable for planting, one can always use the raised bed method to avoid disturbing the ground.

Consider your resources

Where does the sun shine on your garden? Do you have access to water? How is the soil? Do you have trees, a place to rest and catch your breath? Where would you keep your tools and purse while you are working in the garden? Do you have a place for composting? These are a few things to think about before you get down and dirty in the garden. You can always change it at the end of the growing season if it is not to your liking.


Soil Remediation/Restorative Agriculture

In UHC, we do work a lot with sites that are best described as "not great for our vegetables, but somehow great for other things we didn't plant". For example, at Northside College Preparatory, we had to transform a former city salt storage site into garden space. We employed a collection of methods and five years later, it is much more lush than it was when we were first involved.

Our goal in that particular site included:
-Balance soil chemistry
-Retain rainwater with pervious concrete
-Increase bio-diversity, with bio-char and other plant material
-Provide more organic matter to the soil with pioneer plants, wood chips, green manure
-Involve students from the school and general public with a colloquium program (for students) and a year-round Saturday work session (for students and the public), as well as periodic workshops, and supply the school with green outdoor spaces for recess, outdoor classroom (chunk and living wall)

Other Tips and Ideas

A few methods that we found especially helpful in all our locations, when space and labor is available:
-Green house with thermal mass
-In-place composting: Dig a hole, put sh*t in hole, cover up the hole (see also Green Manure)
-Seed saving
-Food preservation
-Site security: Plants as barrier/border against vandalism
-Pest Management via natural predators
-Habitat Creation
-Weed Management


Want to learn more on what we did?

If you have a site and are not sure how to start, we also offer design consulting service. Please feel free to contact us!